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Ecumenical leaders to South Sudan’s rulers: Peace is in your hands

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland are in South Sudan with Pope Francis on a long-planned “Pilgrimage of Peace”. They had direct words for the country’s leaders at a Meeting with Authorities, Civil Society and Diplomatic Corps in Juba.

By Linda Bordoni

Archbishop Justin Welby and the Right Reverand Dr. Iain Greenshields expressed their disappointment in how South Sudanese politicians have promoted and implemented their pledges for peace and said the country needs leaders who care about values and the conditions in which their people live.

Archbishop Welby and the Reverend Dr. Greenshields were addressing the political leaders of South  Sudan on Friday afternoon, at a meeting that kicked off a long-planned ecumenical pilgrimage for peace with Pope Francis to the ravaged east African nation.

Speaking after the Pope’s powerful address, the Archbishop of Canterbury recalled having witnessed the devastation of war in the country and the suffering and grief it caused when he visited the nation nine years ago.

Archbishop Welby reminded those present that, together with a former Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Pope Francis hosted a retreat at the Vatican in 2019 for the leaders of South Sudan.

“We prayed it would be a space for the Holy Spirit to work, and in that meeting we saw the possibility of hope. Pope Francis knelt to kiss the feet of each politician. Almost five years later, we come to you in this way again: on our knees to wash feet, to listen, serve and pray with you.”

However, the Archbishop continued, when he remembers the commitments made back in 2019, he is saddened by what he sees and hears.  

“We hoped and prayed for more; we expected more; you promised more. We cannot pick and choose parts of a Peace Agreement. Every part must be done by every person, and that costs much.”

Peace is in your hands

Archbishop Welby went on to point out that “the answer to peace and reconciliation is not in visits like this but it is in your hands.”

“For the heroic and brave and courageous people of South Sudan, who fought for so long for their freedom and won it,” surely he said, they are people “who have the courage to struggle for peace and reconciliation.” 

“[Peace] is within your reach, it is close to you, you can take it, with the help of God.”

“I pray this might be a visit of hope and healing, of time spent together as one family of Christ, following the one God who brings us ever closer to each other and to him,” he concluded.

“And I pray most that the prayer that was sung to me this afternoon by a group of primary school children may be answered: they sang ‘no more corruption, we want peace in South Sudan. Give us peace in South Sudan! ‘”

Peace is within the reach of the leaders

In his speech, the Right Reverand Dr Iain Greenshields highlighted the need for the peace of Christ.

“Today, we need that peace. We need churches and leaders who are generous of heart, liberal of love, and profligate with God’s grace,” he exclaimed. “We need leaders who care about the values by which our countries live, who care about the conditions in which people live, and who act out their faith in work amongst the most vulnerable and marginalised.”

“These things make for peace.”

Noting that all the people are essential co-workers in God’s desire for a world in which all people can live life in fullness, he said it is “in the reach of the President, Vice-Presidents, leaders and people of South Sudan to extend the reach of justice and compassion to the whole of this young and optimistic country, full of people ready to work for a vibrant and fulfilling future.”

“May all political, civic and international leaders join together in seeking God’s holistic promise of life in fullness for all God’s people.”

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