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South Sudanese bishop welcomes prospective joint visit by Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury

15 November 2019


Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby meet at the Vatican, on Wednesday

Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby meet at the Vatican, on Wednesday

A BISHOP in South Sudan has expressed hope that a proposed visit by the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury might lead to a change of heart in the “desperate” country’s leaders.

The (Anglican) Bishop of Wau, the Rt Revd Moses Deng Bol, said on Thursday: “The leaders seem not to care for the welfare of the people, but for their own political and economic interests.”

The pastoral visit, which could take place early next year, was announced by the Vatican and Lambeth Palace on Wednesday evening, after a private audience between Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby in the Vatican.

A statement from the Vatican Press Office said that their discussions had addressed “the painful reality facing South Sudan”. They had agreed to a joint visit “if the political situation in the country should allow the establishment of a transitional government of national unity in the next 100 days, at the expiry of the agreement signed in recent days in Entebbe, in Uganda”.

The President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, and the opposition leader Riek Machar were expected to form a unified transitional government by 12 November, in line with a September 2018 peace deal aimed at ending the six-year conflict.

After last week’s meeting in Entebbe, under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an African bloc, the leaders agreed to extend the deadline by 100 days, “to allow critical tasks to be completed”, a United Nations press release said.

The UN Secretary General’s deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq said that these tasks included security arrangements and agreement on the number and boundaries of states.

The sixth anniversary of the civil war in South Sudan — which broke out two years after the country gained independence from Sudan (News, 20 December 2013) — will be marked on 15 December.

The bloody conflict has given rise to mass displacement, food shortages, and disease, and human-rights violations on both sides (News, 2 March 2018). It is estimated that almost 200,000 people have been killed, and the UN has described rape as “endemic” (News, 22 February).

In June, the World Food Programme warned that almost seven million people — more than 60 per cent of the country’s population — were suffering from a critical food shortage (News, 21 June).

When the peace agreement was signed more than a year ago (News, 14 September 2018), the Archbishop of South Sudan, the Most Revd Justin Badi, warned that “peace is not something on paper.”

The country’s Churches have contributed to national and local peace and reconciliation efforts, and bishops have spoken out against the failure of political leaders to put the people first (News, 22 December 2017).

On Thursday, Bishop Deng Bol said: “I can describe the situation in South Sudan as desperate. People are desperately yearning for peace, but the leaders seem not to care for the welfare of the people, but for their own political and economic interests.

“There is no clear exit strategy from conflict to peace from our political leaders at the moment. So the only hope the people of South Sudan have now is in God, but not in political settlement.”

The peace agreement was a “great opportunity for the leaders to usher the country out of conflict to the path of peace and development”, he said. “But there is currently no political will to do so. The hope is that the visit of the Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury may resuscitate or promote political will from our political leaders to implement the agreement in letter and spirit.”

Churches were working in multiple fields, he said, including humanitarian relief through Churches’ relief and development wings, trauma counselling, and “engaging with political leadership to encourage a dialogue aimed at building trust and confidence among them”.

In April, Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby hosted a retreat at the Vatican, which Mr Kiir and Mr Machar attended. The Pope kissed the feet of the leaders and pleaded for peace (News, 12 April).

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Archbishop Welby wrote: “Our commitment to the teaching of Jesus means we long to see a lasting solution to the conflict in South Sudan. We renew our call for spiritual and political leaders there to strive for peace.”

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