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Ecumenical trip to South Sudan in July will model reconciliation and forgiveness

30 May 2022


Pope Francis receives the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Vatican in October

Pope Francis receives the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Vatican in October

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has expressed hope that his forthcoming visit to South Sudan with Pope Francis and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly, the Rt Revd Dr Iain Greenshields, will show that “reconciliation and forgiveness are possible” and that relationships can be healed in the war-torn country.

“God has not forgotten South Sudan,” he said.

About 400,000 people have been killed in the civil conflict that began in 2013, two years after independence, and more than four million people have been displaced (Comment, 9 July 2021). On several occasions in the past, Archbishop Welby, Pope Francis, and former Moderators of the General Assembly have written to political leaders in South Sudan calling for a peaceful solution (News, 1 January 2021; 16 July 2021).

During their planned joint visit, from 5 to 7 July, the church leaders will visit a camp for internally displaced people, lead an open-air prayer vigil for peace, and meet the President and five Vice-Presidents of South Sudan to reflect on the commitments made during a spiritual retreat at the Vatican in 2019, when the visit and the future of reconciliation were discussed (News, 12 April 2019).

Archbishop Welby has asked for prayers for the visit, as well as for South Sudan’s leaders and people. He said on Saturday: “We hope to stand in solidarity with the people of South Sudan in their great struggles. We hope to support and encourage the continued unity of Churches for the good of the nation. And we hope to encourage political leaders to pursue peace in this remarkable country.

“We pray that the symbolism of our joint visit will show that reconciliation and forgiveness are possible, and that relationships can be transformed. We come as servants and disciples following the call of Jesus Christ to be peacemakers.”

Dr Greenshields said: “The Church of Scotland has been invited to represent the Presbyterian family due to our strong partnership with the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan. We have been working closely together since 2015 on a vital peace, reconciliation, and conflict-resolution programme. . .

“There is still much work to do, and the symbolism of this historic ecumenical visit sends out a very strong message about our steadfast commitment to helping the people of this country flourish for the good of all.”

Pope Francis described the visit as “an ecumenical pilgrimage of peace. Let us pray that it may inspire Christians in South Sudan and everywhere to be promoters of reconciliation, patient weavers of concord, capable of saying no to the perverse and useless spiral of violence and of arms.”

The Pope, who is 85, has recently been seen using a wheelchair in public, reportedly because of sciatica, which causes him knee pain and makes standing and walking difficult. There has been no mention of his mobility issues in relation to the forthcoming trip.

The Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, resigned in 2013, aged 85 — a decision that he said at the time was motivated by declining health owing to his age. He was the first to retire since Gregory XII in 1415.

On Sunday, Pope Francis announced that he would be creating 21 new cardinals at a consistory on Saturday 27 August. Of these, 16 will be cardinal electors, meaning that they will be able to vote on the next Pope. Currently, there are 208 cardinals in the College of Cardinals, of whom 117 are electors and 91 not.

Among the eight chosen from Europe is Archbishop Arthur Roche, 72, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and was formerly RC Bishop of Leeds. He has been involved in moves by Pope Francis to limit the use of the Extraordinary Form of the mass (the old Latin rite). The other cardinals are from Asia (six), Central and Latin America (four), Africa (two), and North America (one).

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