08 February 2023, The Tablet

Welby reflects on 'utterly surreal' South Sudan pilgrimage

The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke to Christopher Lamb on the papal flight from Juba to Rome.

Welby reflects on 'utterly surreal' South Sudan pilgrimage

Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby at an ecumenical prayer service on 4 February.
Abaca Press/Alamy

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.”


Christopher Lamb's exclusive interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury will be available here to subscribers from midnight.

  Loading ...
Get Instant Access
Subscribe to The Tablet for just £7.99

Subscribe today to take advantage of our introductory offers and enjoy 30 days' access for just £7.99