THE Archbishop of Canterbury’s three-day trip to South Sudan, in the company of Pope Francis and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Rt Revd Dr Iain Greenshields, has concluded with pleas for peace and mercy.
The historic visit by the three Christian leaders began on Friday, when they met the President, Salva Kiir Mayardit, in Juba, the South Sudanese capital (News, 4 February).
Archbishop Welby delivered a homily during an ecumenical prayer vigil in Juba on Saturday evening, attended by tens of thousands of people.
Standing alongside Pope Francis and Dr Greenshields, Archbishop Welby told the crowd: “In a world of famine and thirst, of natural disaster, faith in God’s abundance is hard. But when we are one, we value each other like we value the limbs on our own bodies.”
Addressing young people in a country where more than 50 per cent of the population is under the age of 20, he said: “You are the majority of South Sudan. You are not just the future, you are the present. If we value you, we will listen to your hopes for peace and opportunity, and we allow those hopes to shape the priorities of our nation and church.
“You will not be deceived into war. You will not be forced to kill. You will disagree with others, but you will still love them. You will set an obedient pattern of love to God.”
Earlier on Saturday, Archbishop Welby had lead a service in All Saints’ Cathedral, Juba. He told the congregation, which included thousands gathered outside the Anglican cathedral: “I can hardly speak with sorrow for South Sudan.
“I beg that, at every level, from the President to the smallest child, that people find the mercy of God and are transformed, and that there is peace and good government.”
He continued: “There is a darkness over South Sudan and many other countries in this world. But the light is not overcome by the darkness. The people of Christ are the light of this nation.”
In an interview with BBC News, broadcast on Saturday evening, Archbishop Welby explained what he hoped the trip might achieve in a country riven with conflict: “Dramatic gestures are to kick open doors to create momentum, they don’t solve problems. What they do is that they may unstick stuck situations, and then they have to be followed up.”
On Sunday, Pope Francis celebrated an open-air mass in Juba, which was attended by 70,000 people. He said: “Jesus knows your anguish and the hope you bear in your hearts, the joys and struggles that mark your lives, the darkness that assails you and the faith that, like a song in the night, you raise to heaven.”
After departing from Juba aboard the papal plane on Sunday, the three church leaders conducted a press conference, during which the Pope reiterated his call for homosexuality to be decriminalised around the world (News, 3 February), a view to which Archbishop Welby and Dr Greenshields assented.
Asked about the significance of the trip, Archbishop Welby reflected: “We need constantly to be reminded, and I hope this trip reminds people, that the normal is for the Church to work as one.”