By Cameron Brooks
The “door is open” to finally sign a stalled peace agreement in South Sudan, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has said.
The Rt Rev Dr Greenshields said he prayed that the goodwill built up during a historic ecumenical pilgrimage of peace involving him, Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury would mark a “turning point” in the troubled country’s short history.
He said he had the “most extraordinary few days” in South Sudan and it was very humbling and a privilege to come alongside and stand in solidarity with ordinary people who are suffering profoundly from continued armed conflict, violence, corruption, floods and famine.
The Church of Scotland was invited to represent the Presbyterian family due to its strong partnership with the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan.
Both Churches have been working closely together since 2015 on a vital peace, reconciliation and conflict resolution programme. The Church of Scotland has helped South Sudanese 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.
Dr Greenshields has just completed a three-day official visit to the country and said the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit and his First Vice-president, Riek Machar, both indicated separately that they are willing to promote forgiveness and reconciliation.
The Republic of South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011. Around 400,000 people are said to have lost their lives over the years, 9.4 million people need humanitarian aid and an estimated two million people have been displaced in the country.
An estimated eight million people are expected to experience food insecurity in 2023 and women and girls are extremely vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence.
A recent United Nations report describes a “hellish existence for women and girls” in South Sudan with widespread rape being perpetrated by all armed groups across the country.
Sexual violence has been “instrumentalised as a reward and entitlement for youths and men participating in conflict.”
The Rev Fiona Smith, Principal Clerk to the General Assembly, pictured left, who took part in the pilgrimage, said: “The beaming smiles and shining hope on the faces of the women that I met took my breath away. But I also heard their cries of pain.
“They have no voice so we must be their voice to call for an end to the barbaric treatment of the women and girls of South Sudan. This is why justice, peace and reconciliation is critically urgent.
“The world cannot stand by and allow this to carry on.”
The UK Government, which cut international aid to South Sudan by 59% in 2021, has been urged by charities including Christian Aid to redouble its efforts to support peace-building.
Dr Greenshields said: “South Sudan is the youngest country in the world and it has enormous potential that has yet to be properly realised.
“I embarked on this historic Pilgrimage of Peace with my brothers in Christ to shine a spotlight on a country crippled by civil war and speak truth to power while assuring local people that they are loved by God and must love one another deeply.
“That has now been done and it is now up to those who can make a difference to start the peace process urgently. But actions speak louder than words and the world is watching.
“We want to reiterate to the political leadership that they have a phenomenal country and remarkable people who want to move forward, have greater freedoms and more prosperity, better education and health and a better future.
“The Church there is just fantastic, they work together and try their best to make a difference and we affirm what they are doing in God’s name.”
The visit concluded on Sunday with Pope Francis leading an outdoor Mass in the centre of Juba, the nation’s capital city, and the Moderator and the Archbishop of Canterbury attended.
The three men prayed for the people of South Sudan and signed a peace accord.
It was a spectacular event with a choir and dancers and tens of thousands of people attended.