Peace is possible, says Welby ahead of Africa visit

Published 27 January 2014  |  
PA
Archbishop Justin Welby

The Archbishop of Canterbury will be visiting South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo during a five day trip begining on Thursday.

Over the course of the visit, the Most Reverend Justin Welby will be meeting the countries' bishops and Primates.

This is part of Archbishop Welby's plan to visit all Archbishops of the Anglican Communion within his first 18 months in office.

His staff said the aim of the visit was "to express solidarity, build personal and professional bonds, understand the Primates' work in their local contexts, and lay foundations for good collaboration over the coming years".

Speaking to Zeinab Badawi on the BBC's Hard Talk programme, Archbishop Welby said: "It's my business to keep in touch with all of them.

"The first duty of an Archbishop of Canterbury is to be alongside the extraordinarily brilliant people who are leading our churches in many of these countries.

"Archbishop Daniel Deng in the South Sudan is absolutely up against it, and I want to be with him."

Speaking on the effectiveness of the Church in dealing with conflict, Archbishop Welby said: "The evidence is ... the work of the Churches has been crucial in many areas in setting up reconciliation organisations and leading them ... They are a functional organisation across these countries.

"The impact of conflict on a society is devastating, long lasting, and difficult to deal with."

In the case of South Sudan specifically, he said: "I am worried... but hopeful."

Although Archbishop Welby's priority is to meet with the Anglican leaders in each of the countries, he has not ruled out meeting with political leaders.

Speaking on Hard Talk, Archbishop Welby said that he should still meet even with those he may disagree with, just as Rowan Williams did with Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe in 2011, and denied that meeting a leader meant legitimising them. 

Asked whether he would be meeting Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who has refused to rule out ordering political assassinations, the Archbishop insisted that if he did it would be confidential. 

"Archbishops of Canterbury have been meeting political leaders since 597 ... we are always extremely blunt and forthright," he said. 

Responding to criticism that religion is the cause of many of these conflicts in Africa, the Archbishop said: "In many places in Africa, conflict rests on three stones, ethnicity, economy, and religion ... Faith is the easiest hook to hang on much more complex issues."

He dismissed the idea though that religious faith necessarily led to violence, saying, "Tell Dietrich Bonhoeffer that his faith was a contributor to violence ... giving his life for the sake of defeating the Nazi atrocities."

The Archbishop continued: "The hardest saying we have from Jesus, and one of the most revolutionary, is to love your enemy."

He emphasised that such a thing was a fundamental command of Jesus and not an optional extra to the Christian faith according to circumstances.

"Loving your enemies is a command of Christ. He doesn't say 'if it's possible'," the Archbishop said. 

He then went on to point out how all over Nigeria, there are Christians and Muslims who live together, in cities, towns, village communities, and even families.

When asked about peace, he stated: "It is possible."

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