RELIGION: New date for historic ecumenical Peace Pilgrimage to South Sudan

By Cameron Brooks

An historic “Ecumenical Peace Pilgrimage” to South Sudan that was postponed during the summer has been rescheduled for the New Year.

The Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, His Holiness Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury will travel to the African nation in early February.

They have been invited by President Salva Kiir Mayardit and will meet with him and his five vice-presidents in Juba, the capital of the world’s youngest country which was established in 2011.

The unprecedented ecumenical partnership visit was supposed to take place in July but was postponed due to Pope Francis’s health and has been re-scheduled for 3-5 February.

The three spiritual leaders will also meet local church representatives, civil war victims living in a displaced persons camp and lead a large open-air prayer vigil for peace.

The purpose of the visit is to renew a commitment to peace and reconciliation and stand in solidarity with millions of ordinary people who are suffering profoundly from continued armed conflict, violence, floods and famine.

Pope Francis meeting young people – “I think of South Sudan and the plea for peace arising from its people who are weary of violence and poverty.”

Dr Greenshields said: “I am delighted that our prayers have been answered and Pope Francis’s health has improved to enable this vitally important visit to go ahead.

“I am genuinely humbled at the opportunity to support 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 to South Sudan 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.’”

Dr Greenshields said the Church of Scotland has been invited to represent the Presbyterian family due to its 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,” added the Moderator.

“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 standing in solidarity with the churches and people of this country that it might flourish, and be good for all.”

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 and there was great hope for the country but communities have been torn apart by violence.

The pilgrimage was promised during a spiritual retreat at the Vatican in 2019 at which South Sudanese political leaders committed to working together for the good of their people

Pope Francis said: “I think of South Sudan and the plea for peace arising from its people who, weary of violence and poverty, await concrete results from the process of national reconciliation.

“I would like to contribute to that process, not alone, but by making an ecumenical pilgrimage together with two dear brothers, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury added: “After much waiting, I am very pleased that this historic visit to South Sudan with Pope Francis and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland will be taking place.

“Together we share a deep desire to stand in solidarity with the people of South Sudan, to review and renew the commitments its leaders made at the Vatican in 2019.

“We pray for the Holy Spirit to be at work throughout and after this visit, bringing the peace promised by Christ. Please pray for the people of South Sudan.”

TOP PICTURE: the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly.

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