“I am the Good Shepherd.” (John 10: 1.)
Pope Francis fascinated the world when he got down on his hands and knees and kissed the feet of South Sudanese leaders at the Vatican on April 13, 2019. It was amazing for a White man kissing black leaders who are often considered warring, hard-hearted and undignified people. He did so in the name of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.
It is a tradition on Holy Thursday that priests imitate the example of humility, selflessness, generosity, redemption and acceptance given by Jesus Christ, when he washed the feet of His disciples just before his arrest and crucifixion.
“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” said Jesus in John 13:13-17. Pope Francis does not only wash, but also kisses the feet of the most marginalised, neglected or even demonised in society, like immigrants, convicts and the disfigured.
The pope’s pastoral move was, this time, a way of appealing to the South Sudanese leaders to be good shepherds to their nation by giving peace a chance.
“I am asking you as a brother to stay in peace. I am asking you with my heart, let us go forward. Peace is the first gift that the Lord brought us, and the first commitment that leaders of nations must pursue. Peace is possible with a spirit that is noble, upright, strong and courageous to build peace through dialogue, negotiation and forgiveness,” said the Pope.
The Pope’s peace appeal was the highlight of a two-day spiritual retreat the leaders held under his auspices in Rome. The aim of the spiritual retreat was to foster togetherness among the leaders which would have an effect on the nation as they prepare to share powers as stated in a peace agreement signed on September 12, 2018 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The idea of the retreat was recommended by Archbishop Justin Welby, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, who was also present. The oil-rich South Sudan happens to be the world’s youngest country since it gained its independence from neighbouring Sudan in 2011, after a 2005 agreement to end the longest-running civil war that started since 1962. The post-independence civil war is said to have displaced more than four million citizens and caused more than a million deaths.
On May 12, South Sudan parties are expected to form a transitional government of national unity. The Pope’s gesture has many lessons for African leaders in particular. For the most part of the African history, the continent has been ravaged and taken advantage of by the more powerful people. African leaders themselves are culpable of having sold their own people into slavery.
To date, corrupt and evil governments continue to take advantage of people who are literally ignorant, poor and starving for the most part.
What about the oppressed
Africans are oppressed by their leaders, who promised them a better life than the colonisers provided. Whenever citizens speak out against a corrupt government or call for dialogue, they are reminded of how the liberators fought for their freedom. It may not be surprising, that African citizens are losing confidence in such leaders.
Good shepherding calls us to be our brother’s keeper, right from the family. Parents must protect their children against bad company and the modern-day slavery of human trafficking. They must choose for them the kind of education that is both academic and values oriented. Ultimately, children are taught far more by example than by words. “Whoever is greedy for unjust gain troubles his own household, but he who hates bribes will live.” (Proverbs 15:27).