Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, 'greatly looks forward' to the upcoming historic ecumencial pilgrimage for peace in South Sudan.
When the Holy See formalized on May 28, the program of Pope Francis in South Sudan, Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican Church, said “I greatly look forward” to the joint trip to this battered country. He will travel with the Argentine pontiff and Dr. Iain Greenshields, moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. This ecumenical visit had been promised in 2019 after a meeting in the Vatican between South Sudanese leaders and Christian church leaders.
“We pray that the symbolism of our joint visit will show that reconciliation and forgiveness are possible – and that relationships can be transformed,” Justin Welby said in a statement on the Archdiocese of Canterbury’s website. “We come as servants and disciples following the call of Jesus Christ to be peacemakers,” he said, adding, “God has not forgotten South Sudan.”
Iain Greenshields, the new moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said he was “very humbled” by the opportunity to “help our brothers and sisters in South Sudan in their quest for peace, reconciliation and justice.” His statement said the Church of Scotland was invited to represent the Presbyterian family because of its strong partnership with the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan.
Itinerary for the ecumenical pilgrimage
Before arriving in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, the two religious leaders will join Pope Francis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the pontiff will complete the first part of his African tour. On the morning of July 5, the three will fly from Kinshasa to Juba by mid-afternoon. They will then meet with President Salva Kiir Mayardit and the country’s five vice presidents “to reflect on the commitments” made at the 2019 meeting in the Vatican, the Anglican Church says.
Together, they will visit people living in an IDP camp the next day and host an open-air vigil for peace. In the young country founded in 2011, 400,000 people are believed to have died in a civil war that began in 2013 over political conflict between current President Salva Kiir, of Dinka ethnicity, and Vice President Riek Machar, of Nuer ethnicity. An estimated 4 million people have been displaced.
This ecumenical trip with a high diplomatic impact is unprecedented in its form. The idea originated during “a spiritual retreat” at the Vatican on April 11, 2019, bringing together the two rival South Sudanese leaders – President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar – and Christian leaders.
One image from the meeting had particularly stood out: Pope Francis knelt in front of the enemy leaders and kissed their feet to enjoin them to reconcile. Justin Welby and Pope Francis said they would be willing to travel together to South Sudan if significant progress was made on peace.
Much remains to be done in South Sudan
In December 2020, the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland described the “small progress” made as “insufficient” in a letter to the country’s leaders. In July, the three leaders reaffirmed their desire to come to South Sudan together, provided that the “weighty promises” made in 2019 are honored.
“Your people continue to live in fear and uncertainty, and lack confidence in the ability of their nation to deliver justice, freedom and prosperity,” they said. And they affirmed, “there is still much to be done in South Sudan to shape a nation that reflects the Kingdom of God.”