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3 Voices to give 1 message in S. Sudan on “quite unique” trip in Church history

Moderator of the Church of Scotland shakes hands with the Archbishop of Canterbury

Courtesy of the Church of Scotland

Rev Dr Iain Greenshields, Moderator of the Church of Scotland, and Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury

Isabella H. de Carvalho - published on 01/29/23

In South Sudan “the Church speaks with one voice for peace,” says Presbyterian leader about the upcoming trip with Pope Francis.

From February 3 to 5, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, the Right Reverend Dr. Iain Greenshields, will join Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, on a “pilgrimage of peace” to South Sudan. The three Christian branches have worked together for several years to promote peace in the youngest state in the world, which continues to be troubled by conflict since its independence in 2011.

In an interview with I.MEDIA, Dr Greenshields shared his hopes and expectations for this ecumenical trip and highlighted the role of the Presbyterian Church in South Sudan.

“We want to show that we should be one, that the Church speaks with one voice for peace, love, forgiveness, reconciliation,” Dr. Greenshields said, who is preparing himself for this unprecedented trip. “This strong Christian message, for a country with a large Christian population, will be reinforced as it will be said by 3 different people.” 

Consolidating years of ecumenical efforts 

South Sudan lived through decades of violent conflicts from the 1950s until the early 2000s which culminated in its independence from Sudan in 2011. The young nation then erupted into another civil war, which led to over 400,000 deaths and 4 million displaced. Despite a peace agreement signed in 2018, the security, economic and social situation remains fragile. 

An ecumenical pilgrimage to promote peace had been envisioned as early as 2017 but had to be postponed due to the deteriorating safety situation in the country. In 2019 the three communities intensified their efforts for peace, when they hosted a spiritual retreat at the Vatican for the contending South Sudanese leaders. During this trip Pope Francis knelt down in front of the President, Salva Kiir, and Vice President, Riek Machar, as a gesture of plea for peace. 

“We want people to hear that there is a pathway that they can take towards forgiveness, Christian love, reconciliation, and peace with one another, so that the violence that continues will stop,” Dr. Greenshields explained.

He hopes that this trip will also raise awareness on the situation of extreme poverty in which the country finds itself and highlighted that the vast natural resources the country has can greatly benefit the population. 

For Dr. Greenshields this “quite unique” trip in the history of the Church consolidates all the initiatives that have been put in place in recent years to promote peace. The Moderator also emphasized also the “holistic approach” of this peace delegation, which is visiting a country where more than 60% of the population is Chirstian.

The Presbyterian Church’s role in South Sudan 

The Church of Scotland, which counts around 300,000 members worldwide, first established a connection with Sudan in the mid-1990s. Those relations then intensified in the last 10 years through educational initiatives, humanitarian aid to displaced people, and visits from Scottish representatives. The Moderator highlighted that the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan sees the Church of Scotland “almost as its mother Church.” 

In 2015 the Moderator at the time, Dr. John Chalmers, organized workshops with the South Sudanese Presbyterian and Anglican leaders focused on developing skills for mediation, trauma healing and reconciliation between community members. These then lead to further workshops in 2016 and 2017 and to the participants being able to visit Scotland in 2018. 

“With the workshops we hoped that the people would be able to find a way of healing much of the hurt that has existed for decades. I think our role is one of encouragement, of facilitating and of doing anything that we can on the ground to help,” Dr. Greenshields explained. 

The Presbyterian Church of the USA (PCUSA), a partner of the Church of Scotland, is also very influential in South Sudan. It sent its first missionaries to Sudan in the 1900s and helped develop the Presbyterian Church in Sudan, which later concentrated in South Sudan when the new nation was established.

In fact the PCUSA will also be represented in the ecumenical trip by the co-moderator of the General Assembly, Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis, and Dr. Dianna Wright, Director of Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations. The PCUSA has around one million members worldwide.

AfricaEcumenismPope Francis
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