The joint visit of Church leaders to South Sudan was “a liberation of the spirit of God”, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
Speaking to The Tablet at the end of his ecumenical pilgrimage with Pope Francis and Dr Iain Greenshields, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly, Archbishop Justin Welby described the experience as “utterly surreal” and a cause for “great hope”.
“When the Churches work together, who in the past have literally been enemies, attacking each other, and burning each other’s priests, and have condemned each other in the most forceful terms, when that is the case there is something spiritual that happens,” he said.
In an interview with The Tablet’s Rome Correspondent, Christopher Lamb, aboard the papal flight from Rome to Juba, the archbishop praised the example of the Churches in South Sudan.
“They’ve put their country before their tensions, and the common good before the ecclesial interest, and that is one reason why we are seeing considerable growth in the Churches in South Sudan,” he said.
Churches in the region have a long history of cooperation, in the Sudan Council of Churches and since 2011 the South Sudan Council of Churches.
Archbishop Welby said that cooperation in action was the most effective form of ecumenism, arguing that Churches “mustn’t try [to] be tidy in our ecumenism because at the heart of ecumenism is the untidiness of human relationships across different traditions”.
Asked about the Catholic Church’s official rejection of the validity of Anglican orders, he suggested that working together was more important than formal statements on the subject.
The archbishop also spoke about the opposition within the Catholic Church to Francis, which is sometimes particularly strong among Catholics who are former Anglicans.
The trip had seen Francis offer joint blessings to the assembled crowds with Archbishop Welby and Dr Greenshields, and they had joined the Pope on the altar after a Mass at the John Garang Mausoleum on Sunday.
“Sometimes you change your mind, not by saying you’ve changed your mind, but over time behaving differently,” said Archbishop Welby. “Maybe that’s one of the ways forward.”
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