Archbishop of Canterbury, Pope and Scottish Moderator to make historic peace pilgrimage to South Sudan

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby (l), and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland General Assembly, the Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields (r).(Photo: Church of Scotland)

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Pope and Moderator of the Church of Scotland General Assembly will be visiting South Sudan in July as part of a historic 'Ecumenical Pilgrimage of Peace'. 

South Sudan is the world's youngest country, having gained its independence in 2011, but it has been ravaged by years of conflict, and has suffered the additional challenges of economic turmoil, famine and floods.

The joint visit by the Church leaders is taking place at the invitation of President Salva Kiir Mayardit and will focus on renewing commitments to peace and reconciliation. 

During the three-day visit, the Church leaders will meet President Salva Kiir and the vice presidents of South Sudan.

The schedule includes meetings with local church leaders and people staying in a displaced persons camp. The Church leaders will also lead an open-air vigil for peace.

Pope Francis said, "Let us pray that it may inspire Christians in South Sudan and everywhere to be promotors of reconciliation, patient weavers of concord, capable of saying no to the perverse and useless spiral of violence and of arms."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said he was greatly looking forward to the pilgrimage.

"We hope to stand in solidarity with the people of South Sudan in their great struggles," he said. 

"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."

The Church of Scotland said it was their prayer that "communities torn apart by violence can co-exist and develop in a peaceful, just and secure environment". 

Moderator, the Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields, said, "I am genuinely humbled at the opportunity to assist our brothers and sisters in South Sudan in the search for peace, reconciliation and justice.

"It is a privilege to be joining the Holy Father and the Archbishop of Canterbury on this historic Ecumenical Pilgrimage of Peace and we come as servants of the Global Church.

"We call on all people in South Sudan to give expression to Jesus' words that 'Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.'

"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.

"It has helped local church leaders work at both a grassroots level and political level to try and bring unnecessary conflict to an end and build lasting peace, stability and unity.

"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."

The pilgrimage follows a spiritual retreat at the Vatican in 2019 that brought together the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the former General Assembly Moderator, the Very Rev Dr John Chalmers, together with the South Sudan president and other politicians.

In a symbolic gesture, Pope Francis knelt before the South Sudanese delegation, kissed their shoes and urged them to pursue peace. 

"Remember that with war, all is lost," he said at the time.