After postponing their unique ecumenical pilgrimage of peace to South Sudan, world Christian leaders will travel to the world’s youngest nation in February.
Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church; Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, head of the worldwide Anglican Communion; and, The Rev’d Dr Iain Greenshields, moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, are expected to be in Juba, the capital city, from 3-5 February.
The visit is viewed as crucial to boosting an ongoing peace process and encouraging the people facing violence and hunger.
“The people of South Sudan welcome the visit. They are excited and look forward to the three leaders’ visit,” Anglican Bishop Moses Deng Bol of Wau said.
“We are happy with this show of solidarity from the global Christian community. We hope it will reinforce the implementation of the revitalized peace agreement.”
Earlier scheduled for July, the trip was postponed over Pope Francis’ health. In 2019, in a retreat in the Vatican, the Pope kissed the feet of warring leaders and urged them not to return to civil war.
“The leaders are constantly being reminded of the effect of that kiss. They are reminded they cannot go back to war because of that act,” Bol said.
In South Sudan, the majority are Christians. They live side by side with followers of African traditional religions and a small population of Muslims.
According to the bishop, the unity of the three leaders during the visit reflected South Sudan churches’ vibrant ecumenical unity, under the South Sudan Council of Churches. While pastoring to the conflict-hit communities and delivering aid, the churches are also reconciling the people and steering for peace.
On 4 February, in Juba, the leaders will meet communities recently displaced by floods, famine, and ongoing violence. A joint ecumenical prayer service is scheduled for 5 February in the city at the John Garang Mausoleum, the tomb of the late South Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army leader.
South Sudan people revere Garang’—who died on 30 July 2005 in a helicopter plane crash—as the founding father of the nation. The leaders will also meet pastors of local churches and civic leaders.
South Sudan attained its independence in 2011, but civil war erupted barely two years into freedom. An estimated 400,000 are believed to have died in the conflict. Although a 2018 peace agreement ended most of the fighting, ordinary people still suffer from violence and hunger.
Pope Francis has said he thought of South Sudan and the plea for peace arising from its people who are weary of violence and poverty, awaiting concrete results from the process of national reconciliation.
“I would like to contribute to that process, not alone, but by making an ecumenical pilgrimage together with two dear brothers…”, said the Pope, according to a statement from the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity on December 1.
Welby said together they shared a deep desire to stand in solidarity with the people of South Sudan, to review and renew the commitments its leaders made at the Vatican in 2019.
“We pray for the Holy Spirit to be at work throughout and after this visit, bringing the peace promised by Christ,” the Archbishop said.
According to Greenshields, the leaders will be visiting, “as servants of the global Church to accompany the people in South Sudan as they seek to give expression to Jesus’ words that ‘blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.’ ”
Before traveling to South Sudan, Pope Francis will visit the Democratic Republic of Congo from 31 January-3 February. The Democratic Republic of Congo, a country with many Christians, is also facing a deadly militia conflict in the east.
First published on the World Council of Churches website on 2 December 2022.Jump to next article