"My collaborators are studying the possibility of a trip to South Sudan. But why? Because the Anglican, Presbyterian and Catholic bishops came to tell me: 'Please come to South Sudan maybe just for one day. But don't come alone, come with Justin Welby'. This came from the young church in that country, and it got us thinking about a very bad situation there, and about the fact that they want peace, to work together for peace," Pope Francis was quoted as saying during a 2017 meeting with the Anglican community at All Saints Church in Rome.
The initiative that year was halted following heightened violent clashes in different parts of South Sudan amid a serious humanitarian crisis.
In 2019, Pope Francis reiterated his desire to travel to the East-Central African nation that gained independence from Sudan in July 2011.
This was during the April 2019 spiritual retreat that brought together the South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit, the opposition leader, Riek Machar, and widow of South Sudanese leader John Garang, Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior, among other political and religious authorities in South Sudan.
"We are all aware that this meeting is something altogether special and in some sense unique, since it is neither an ordinary bilateral or diplomatic meeting between the Pope and Heads of State, nor an ecumenical initiative involving representatives of different Christian communities," Pope Francis said about the spiritual retreat that had been conceived by Archbishop Welby.
"The purpose of this retreat is for us to stand together before God and to discern his will," Pope Francis further said, adding, "It is to reflect on our own lives and the common mission the Lord has entrusted to us, to recognize our enormous shared responsibility for the present and future of the people of South Sudan, and to commit ourselves, reinvigorated and reconciled, to the building up of your nation."
Pope Francis was seen kneeling and kissing the feet of South Sudanese political leaders, pleading for the gift of peace for a people disfigured by the civil war that erupted in December 2013.
Recalling the April 2019 symbolic gesture, Archbishop Gallagher has been quoted as saying in the December 24 report in reference to his three-day visit to Juba, "The retreat at the Vatican got a lot of attention especially because of the Holy Father's extreme gesture of pleading with the leaders of South Sudan to move the peace process forward for the good of the people. So, we worked on that" during the days of the (Juba) visit.
Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher (middle) in Juba; Courtesy Photo
"It’s been a visit that is affected by COVID-19, but in the end, we decided that there is no perfect time for any such visit. We decided we should come now. We have come with the objective of listening to the people; listening to the leaders, both political and Church leaders, in order to see what is the situation here and what contribution can both the Holy See, in particular, Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury, make in moving this process forward,” the Holy See Secretary for Relations with States says in the Vatican News report.