Pope Francis, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, will make a historic ecumenical pilgrimage for peace to South Sudan next month, on 5-7 July.
Paul Samasumo – Vatican City
The joint visit of Pope Francis, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields, was first suggested during a spiritual retreat of April 2019, held in the Vatican. The retreat preached by Nigerian Jesuit priest Father Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator was hosted by Pope Francis for South Sudan’s political leaders.
At the time, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said the two and half days of retreat were approved by Pope Francis following a proposal presented by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
Four of South Sudan’s five vice presidents (then still warring factions) attended the retreat. Riek Machar, James Wani Igga, Taban Deng Gai and Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior participated in the retreat. In attendance were South Sudan’s senior Christian leaders.
Speaking to John Baptiste Tumusiime of Vatican News, Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields -Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said the visit to South Sudan would be the first of its kind.
Below is the discussion with Dr Iain Greenshields.
From your perspective, how did the idea for this visit unfold?
Going back to 2015, when the Moderator of the Church of Scotland visited South Sudan was the beginning of trying to find some way of working towards reconciliation and peace. This was also being taken up at the same time by the Vatican. A visit by the country’s leaders followed that of the Vatican. Recently, at the beginning of the year, the Vatican invited the Church of Scotland and Lambeth Palace to consider another visit because Pope Francs was going to visit the Congo and wanted to go to South Sudan. The Pope wanted it to be an ecumenical pilgrimage of peace. This (visit) has the full support of the South Sudanese government.
Purpose of the visit?
The backdrop of this is the main purpose of this visit. The Church of Scotland has been involved in South Sudan -workshops, visits to Scotland and an attempt to train people to be facilitators for peace and reconciliation. What we hope to try and achieve is a positive way forward that will enable the whole Christian community to come together with civil society and the government to try and facilitate some kind of lasting accord in the country. Hopefully, that can stop the violence and address issues of poverty and issues of injustice.
Meaning of Ecumenism?
The visit is an ecumenical pilgrimage for peace in South Sudan. In simple terms, what does this mean?
South Sudan is a country with a very high population of Christians representing the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican community and Presbyterians. There is within South Sudan a history of violence and injustice, and there has been no peace for well over a decade. A large number of lives have also been lost.
This visit is an ecumenical one representing all three of these Churches. Our view is that we can offer something to try to find a way forward for peace.
Speaking as a moderator of the Church of Scotland, I think this is an exciting opportunity for Churches working together to make a difference. This is what we are here to do. We are called to be peacemakers by Jesus, and if there is any way in which we can help facilitate that, then this is the ground upon which we should be standing.