UK church leaders to join Pope on ‘historic’ visit to South Sudan

The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and the Archbishop of Canterbury are to join Pope Francis on a “historic” pilgrimage of peace to South Sudan.

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

The visit had been due to take place in July but was postponed due to the Pope’s ill health, and will now take place from February 3-5 next year.

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

The Archbishop of Canterbury, left, and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will travel to South Sudan (Church of Scotland/PA)
The Archbishop of Canterbury, left, and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will travel to South Sudan (Church of Scotland/PA)

The visit, described as an Ecumenical Pilgrimage of Peace, aims to renew a commitment to peace and reconciliation and stand in solidarity with millions of ordinary people who are suffering amid continued armed conflict, violence, floods and famine.

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.”

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011.

Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said he feels privileged to be taking part in the visit.

He 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.’”

The pilgrimage was promised during a spiritual retreat at the Vatican in 2019 which involved the three Christian denominations and political leaders from South Sudan.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said: “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.”