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Welby speaks of grief that the promise of peace was broken in South Sudan

04 February 2023

Church of Scotland

The three church leaders with President Kiir of South Sudan on Friday afternoon

The three church leaders with President Kiir of South Sudan on Friday afternoon

THE Archbishop of Canterbury, in a historic visit to South Sudan with Pope Francis and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, has told the country’s political leaders that he is grieved by the lack of progress towards peace.

Archbishop Welby and the Moderator, the Rt Revd Dr Iain Greenshields, met Pope Francis at the airport in Juba, the South Sudanese capital, in the middle of Friday afternoon.

Shortly afterwards, the three Christian leaders met the President, Salva Kiir Mayardit, his vice-presidents, and a gathering of civic authorities and diplomats at the presidential palace.

South Sudan was formed in 2011, a mainly Christian country split off from the mainly Muslim Sudan in the north. Independence was followed almost immediately by a civil war in which an estimated 400,000 people were killed and four million displaced.

Both the Archbishop and the Pope expressed their horror at the news of an attack by cattle herders on a settlement in Kajo-Keji on the eve of the visit, in which 27 people were killed.

At the Friday afternoon gathering, Archbishop Welby recalled the meeting between the warring leaders in the Vatican in 2019 (News, 12 April 2019), at which Pope Francis knelt to kiss the feet of President Kiir and his rival Riek Machar. Shortly afterwards, in February 2020, the two agreed to form a national unity government, but despite the official ending of the civil war, factional violence continues almost unabated.

Addressing the country’s leaders, Archbishop Welby said: “In 2019 Pope Francis knelt to kiss the feet of each politician. Five years later, we come to you in this way again: on our knees, to wash feet, to listen, to serve, to pray with you.

“But we come to listen to the young people, which is 70 per cent of South Sudan. Without listening to their voice, there will be no peace and reconciliation. And we come to honour the women who have known such terrible suffering.

“And we thank you for your presence in this gathering. We pray that that may show that you have not given up hope.

“Yet forgive me, my dear sisters and brothers, and leaders of this country, but I must say that places far and near, and so many of the citizens of this wonderful country, are becoming tired that more has not changed. That tiredness is seen in the faces of the people of South Sudan.

“When I remember the commitments that were made by you in 2019, I am grieved. I am sad that we still hear of such tragedy. We hoped and prayed for more. We expected more. You promised more.

“We cannot pick and choose parts of a peace agreement. Every part must be done by every person and that costs much. But the answer to peace and reconciliation is not in visits like this. But it is in your hands. For the heroic and brave and courageous people of South Sudan who fought for so long for their freedom and won it are surely the people who have the courage to struggle for peace and reconciliation. It is within your reach. It is close to you. You can take it with the help of God.

“The people of South Sudan are loved by God. Your stories, your suffering, is known by God. Your prayers are heard by God. Together in this visit, we will pray for peace.”

Pope Francis addressed the political leaders and the “fathers and mothers” of the young country. The peopled “need fathers, not overlords; they need steady steps towards development, not constant collapses, he said.

“May the time that followed the birth of the country, its painful childhood, lead to a peaceful maturity,.”

Addressing the president and vice-president directly, the Pope said: “In the name of God, in whom so many people of this beloved country believe, now is the time to say: ‘No more of this.’

“No more bloodshed, no more conflicts, no more violence and mutual recriminations about who is responsible for it, no more leaving your people athirst for peace. No more destruction. It is time to build. Leave the time of war behind and let a time of peace dawn.”

Dr Greenshields reminded the gathering of Christ’s words: “Blessed are the peacemakers.” He added that he believed that it was “in the reach of the President, Vice-Presidents, leaders and people of South Sudan to extend the reach of justice and compassion to the whole of this young and optimistic country, full of people ready to work for a vibrant and fulfilling future.”

On Saturday, Archbishop Welby is to lead a service of worship in All Saints’ Cathedral, Juba. The three Christian leaders are to come together again in the afternoon to meet people displaced by war and hear from children living in displacement camps. An ecumenical prayer meeting is planned for Saturday evening; and on Sunday the Archbishop and the Moderator will be present at an open-air Roman Catholic mass.

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