RELIGION: Moderator, Pope and Archbishop urge South Sudan’s leaders to pursue peace   

 The Very Rev John Chalmers, formerly of Renton Trinity Church of the Church of Scotland, greets Pope Francis during talks about Sudan. Top picture: Archbishop Justin Welby joins church leaders and politicians in prayers for peace.

By Helen Silvis

The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair has joined Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury to send a Christmas greeting to South Sudan’s political leaders urging them to continue seeking peace.

In their joint letter, they welcome the “small progress” the leaders have made but say it is “not enough” for the people of South Sudan.

They remind the political leaders of their commitments made at the Vatican in April 2019 to bring South Sudan to a smooth implementation of the Peace Agreement. They also restate their commitment to making a joint visit to the country.

The leaders write: “We remain prayerfully mindful of the commitments made at the Vatican in April 2019 – yours to bring your country to a smooth implementation of the Peace Agreement, and ours to visit South Sudan in due course, as things return to normalcy.”

“We have been glad to see the small progress you have made, but know it is not enough for your people to feel the full effect of peace. When we visit, we long to bear witness to a changed nation, governed by leaders who, in the words of the Holy Father last year, ‘hold hands, united… as simple citizens’ to ‘become Fathers (and Mothers) of the Nation’.”

They add: “We pray, this Christmas, that you will know greater trust among yourselves and a greater generosity of service to your people. We pray you know the peace that surpasses understanding in your own hearts and in the heart of your great nation (Philippians 4:7).”

The Church of Scotland has a partnership with the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan and has been actively involved in trying to secure unity and lasting peace since 2015, hosting peace-building sessions in Kenya, South Sudan and Scotland.

At the request of Pope Francis, Archbishop Justin Welby led a spiritual retreat for South Sudan’s most senior political and church leaders at the Vatican in April 2019.  Very Rev Dr John Chalmers, who visited the world’s youngest nation during his year as Moderator, represented the Church of Scotland.

In a dramatic gesture at the end of the retreat, Pope Francis knelt before the leaders of South Sudan’s government and opposition, kissing their shoes and urging them to pursue peace. “Remember that with war, all is lost,” the Pope said.

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 but descended into a brutal civil war in December 2013. In an attempt to end the conflict, the country’s president, Salva Kiir, and opposition leaders, including Dr Riek Machar, signed a peace deal in 2018 and agreed to form a unity government.

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