Pope Francis meets Sudan bishops as UN documents atrocities in the South

(Photo: REUTERS / Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah)South Sudanese worshipers attend Sunday prayers in Baraka Parish church at Hajj Yusuf, on the outskirts of Khartoum, February 10, 2013. Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has said he wants to adopt a "100 percent" Islamic constitution now that the South has split off. The government says the new constitution will guarantee religious freedom, but many Christians are wary. They say authorities started a crackdown in December and it has been getting worse.

The conflict in Africa's newest country, South Sudan, continues to rage with Pope Francis meeting bishops from there the same day a U.N. report documented widespread human rights violation by all parties to the conflict.

Widespread human rights violations and abuses have been committed in South Sudan by all parties to the conflict since December 2013, the U.N. report said.

These include hundreds of extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, sexual violence, forced recruitment and indiscriminate attacks against civilians.

Pope Francis met with the bishops of Sudan and South Sudan Jan. 20 while they were in Rome for a meeting organized by the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

South Sudan achieved independence from Sudan in 2011, after decades of a civil war which killed more than two million people.

Despite a peaceful start, a civil conflict broke out in 2013 between factions in South Sudan. The new civil war has killed thousands of people and displaced over one million others.

"Without peace, religion has difficulties," Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro, of the Archdiocese of Juba said Vatican Radio reported.

The bishops invited Pope Francis to visit South Sudan.

"He said: I am ready. I want to. I want to. I want to. But we have to leave everything in the hands of the Lord," said Loro.

Loro told Vatican Radio's 105Live the "issue of peace" is still a priority in both countries, especially South Sudan, "because we are at war."

Meanwhile the U.N. report documents at least 280 cases of conflict-related sexual violence, including gang-rape, sexual slavery and forced abortion.

There has also been a sharp increase in child recruitment, with at least 13,000 to 15,000 child soldiers, recruited mainly, but not solely, by opposition forces, as of December 2015.

"Despite the severity of the human rights and humanitarian law violations perpetrated by both sides to the conflict, there are no tangible accountability mechanisms beyond the rhetoric of the main belligerents," says the report.

The Catholic Church in South Sudan has one archdiocese, and six suffragan dioceses. The bishops are members of the Sudan Catholic Bishops' Conference, which includes the bishops from Sudan.

Catholics make up more than third of the 12 million population in South Sudan, Vatican Raadio said. In Sudan, Catholics make up just over 3 percent of the population, while the vast majority of the people are Sunni Muslims.

Copyright © 2015 Ecumenical News