Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby are to make their long-awaited visit to South Sudan in July this year. They will also be joined by the moderator of the Church of Scotland.
Before visiting South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, that has been riven by conflict since its formation in July 2011, the Pope will also visit the Democratic Republic of Congo, but will not be accompanied there by the Archbishop or moderator.
The visit will be the church leaders’ first ever joint peace-keeping mission.
In its daily bulletin today, the Vatican’s Sala Stampa said: “At the invitation of their respective heads of state and bishops, His Holiness Pope Francis will make an Apostolic Journey to the Democratic Republic of Congo from 2 to 5 July 2022, visiting the cities of Kinshasa and Goma and to South Sudan from 5 to 7 July, visiting Juba. The programme and further details of the journey will be announced in due course”.
Lambeth Palace confirmed that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the moderator of the Church of Scotland will join the Pope in South Sudan
In December 2020, Pope Francis renewed his pledge to visit South Sudan, first made in 2019, along with Archbishop Welby and the moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. In a Christmas message to South Sudan’s political leaders, the three church leaders said: “In this Christmas season, we remember that our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world among the least – in a dusty stable with animals. Later, he called those who wish to be great in his kingdom to be the servant of all. We remain prayerfully mindful of the commitments made at the Vatican in April 2019 – yours to bring your country to a smooth implementation of the Peace Agreement, and ours to visit South Sudan in due course, as things return to normalcy.
“We have been glad to see the small progress you have made, but know it is not enough for your people to feel the full effect of peace.”
The first steps towards the visit came at a retreat in Rome with South Sudan’s warring factions, Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby. The retreat ended with the Pope bending down to kiss the feet of the South Sudanese leaders in an appeal for them to pursue peace. Soon afterwards, political leaders agreed to a ceasefire while committing themselves to work for lasting peace in a deal signed at the headquarters of the Sant’Egidio Community, the Catholic humanitarian group which has been working for peace in South Sudan.
In their joint message in December 2020, the three church leaders said: “When we visit, we long to bear witness to a changed nation, governed by leaders who, in the words of the Holy Father last year, ‘hold hands, united ... as simple citizens’ to ‘become Fathers (and Mothers) of the Nation’. We pray, this Christmas, that you will know greater trust among yourselves and a greater generosity of service to your people. We pray you know the peace that surpasses understanding in your own hearts and in the heart of your great nation.”
In an address to a festival in in Belfast last month, Archbishop Welby referred to his hopes that the visit would take place and described the scene at the retreat when Pope Francis kissed the feet of the South Sudan leaders. He said: “I could see tears running down their faces. Tears were running down every face there, including the BBC cameraman.”