Pope and archbishop join for historic peace mission
There has never been a visit like it and it has been years in the planning. A Pope and an Archbishop of Canterbury make a foreign trip together for the first time in history, joined by the most senior figure in the Church of Scotland.
The first people to greet Pope Francis when he arrived in the South Sudanese capital were Archbishop Justin Welby and Moderator, Rev. Iain Greenshields, who both boarded the papal plane moments after it landed.
All three were greeted with fanfare at Juba’s airport before travelling through singing, cheering and ululating crowds to the Presidential Palace.
“This will be a historic visit. After centuries of division, leaders of three different parts of the Church are coming together in an unprecedented way,” says Archbishop Welby.
Their mission is to bring hope and to encourage leaders to find a lasting peace in South Sudan.
“We pray that this visit will be a catalyst for the leaders of South Sudan to focus on what unites them and not what divides them for they are all loved equally in the eyes of the Lord,” says Rev. Greenshields.
But this trip comes at a time when the country is suffering severe political instability, its people facing crushing poverty, and many observers are viewing the outlook as bleak.
The youngest nation of the world has been ravaged by a bloody civil war since its leaders disagreed over control of the oil-rich country in 2013, just two years after its independence from Sudan.
More than 400,000 people are thought to have died as a result of the conflict and though a peace deal in 2018 created a unity government, some of its key provisions have not been implemented.
More than 60% of the population of South Sudan is estimated to be Christian, mainly belonging to Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian traditions, though the war has been fought along ethnic and not religious lines.
The battle for control mainly raged between the supporters of President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and supporters of the First Vice-President Riek Machar, a Nuer.
Despite the deal, and the fact that they are working together, relations between the two men remain strained and there appears to be a lack of trust.
Violence continues in parts of the country driven by ethnic tensions as well as a splinter group from Mr Machar’s party – at least 20 people were killed during a cattle raid on the eve of the religious leaders’ visit. —BBC