A RARE joint letter from the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Rt Revd Colin Sinclair, has urged the leaders of South Sudan to continue to seek peace.
Sent before a long-planned joint visit by Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby to the new nation, the letter welcomed the “small progress” made towards peace, but said that more needed to be done.
The letter reads: “When we visit, we long to bear witness to a changed nation, governed by leaders who, in the words of the Holy Father last year, ‘hold hands, united . . . as simple citizens’ to ‘become Fathers (and Mothers) of the Nation’.
“We pray, this Christmas, that you will know greater trust among yourselves and a greater generosity of service to your people.”
It had originally been hoped that the visit could take place in 2020. Archbishop Welby led a spiritual retreat for South Sudan’s most senior political and church leaders at the Vatican in April 2019 (News, 12 April 2019). At the end, Pope Francis knelt before the leaders of South Sudan’s government and opposition, kissing their shoes and urging them to pursue peace.
In February, South Sudan’s government and opposition parties announced a transitional government after years of fighting, but outbreaks of fighting have continued in some areas, and humanitarian assistance is unable to get through (News, 29 May).
South Sudan descended into civil war within two years of the new nation being formed in 2011. Parts of the country are now on the brink of a catastrophic famine, humanitarian organisations have warned, owing to the impact of the conflict, Covid-19, and recent floods.
Three UN agencies warned that 6.5 million people were facing severe food insecurity. Parts of Pibor County, in Jonglei State, are believed to be already in famine, and several other states on the brink of it.
Associated Press said that its reporters had visited some of the worst-affected areas, where children were already dying from hunger.
Christian Aid, in a statement with the Church in Wales, which is supporting its appeal, is urging the UK Government to use its influence to call for full humanitarian access to the worst areas and a cessation of fighting.
Christian Aid’s South Sudan country director, James Wani, based in Juba, said: “If you look at the evidence that we have — and bear in mind that the situation is likely to be worse given the gaps in the formal information available — famine is most likely already happening.
”Floods, conflict and Covid-19 have entwined to deliver devastation and fuel the food crisis:the combined result is the destruction of crops, livelihoods, houses and dwellings, roads have become impassable, markets have stopped, supply chains have been crippled, and food prices have soared.”
The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies, said: “Through our ties with the Anglican Church in South Sudan, and our Centenary Appeal, we know that this young nation has suffered greatly in a short period. The efforts to build peace there have been central to the work of the Church, and we’ve had the opportunity to support that work recently.
“But there is so much more to be done. The necessary development work needed in one of the world’s poorest countries is hampered by conflict. I urge the UK Government to do all it can to support the peace-building process.”