, 15 November, 2019 / 3:52 AM
Three days after Pope Francis led Catholic faithful in praying for peace and reconciliation in South Sudan and expressed the hope to visit the East African country, the Holy Father has reconfirmed his desire to realize the trip to the world’s youngest country and disclosed that it would be a joint pastoral visit, together with the spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican communion, Archbishop Justin Welby.
On Sunday, November 10, three days after the main political leaders in South Sudan agreed to a 100-day extension of the once renewed deadline for the formation of a unity government, Pope Francis led Catholics at the Vatican in praying a “Hail Mary” for the end of the protracted conflict in the country and addressed “a special thought to the dear people of South Sudan, whom,” the Holy Father said, he “will have to visit.”
On Wednesday, November 13, Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury met at the Vatican during which they expressed their desire to make a joint pastoral visit to South Sudan, particularly if “a transitional government of national unity” will have been created.
After the Vatican encounter of the two global leaders at the Casa Santa Marta guest house, the Holy See Press Office reported, “During the friendly discussions, the conditions of Christians in the world was mentioned, as well as certain situations of international crisis, particularly the sorrowful situation in South Sudan.”
The Holy See Press Office statement continued, “At the end of the meeting, the Holy Father and the Archbishop of Canterbury agreed that if the political situation in the Country permits the creation of a transitional government of national unity in the coming 100 days, according to the timing set by the recent agreement signed in Entebbe, in Uganda, it is their intention to visit South Sudan together.”
Archbishop Welby has also confirmed plans for the joint pastoral trip to South Sudan.
“We discussed our shared passion for peace in South Sudan and agreed that if the political situation permits the creation of a transitional government of national unity, it is our intention to visit together,” the Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS) has quoted the Anglican leader, Archbishop Welby as saying.
“Our commitment to the teaching of Jesus means we long to see a lasting solution to the conflict in South Sudan. We renew our call for spiritual and political leaders there to strive for peace,” ACNS has reported.
The hope for a joint trip to South Sudan by Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby was first expressed in October 2016, when leaders of the Catholic, Episcopalian and Presbyterian churches in South Sudan traveled to the Vatican to explain their country’s situation and extended the invitation to the Holy Father.
Recalling the conversation with South Sudanese Christian leaders, Pope Francis said the spiritual leaders had told him “but don’t come alone, come with Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury.”
In February 2017, while visiting an Anglican church in Rome, the Holy Father disclosed that he and Archbishop Welby were contemplating a joint pastoral visit to South Sudan in response to the invitation of the country’s Christian leaders.
In April 2019, a two-day spiritual retreat involving political and ecclesiastical authorities of South Sudan was held as a fruit of a proposal by Archbishop Welby to the Holy Father. Reflections during the retreat focused on the national anthem of South Sudan under the guidance of Ugandan Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu and Jesuit Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator who head the Conference of Major Superiors of Africa and Madagascar.
At the end of the spiritual retreat, the Holy Father knelt at the feet of the political leaders of South Sudan, kissed their feet, and begged them to give peace a chance.
“As a brother, I ask you to remain in peace. I ask you from my heart, let’s go forward. There will be many problems, but do not be afraid,” Pope Francis told South Sudanese political leaders, among them President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Dr. Riek Machar.
Pope Francis recalled the April spiritual retreat during his Angelus address Sunday, November 10 and renewed his “invitation to all the actors in the (South Sudan) national political process to seek what unites and to overcome what divides, in a true spirit of brotherhood.”
On November 8, President Kiir and the Vice-President designate Dr. Machar agreed to postpone yet again the formation of a unity government by one hundred days effective from November 12, a decision that has been welcomed by the Church leaders of the predominantly Christian nation.
The September 2018 Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) provided for May 12, 2019 deadline for the formation of a unity government that would see armed rebel groups including the one led by Dr. Machar join the current government under the leadership of President Kiir.
The formation of a unity government, an essential precondition for the joint pastoral visit, is pegged on the possibility of resolving contentious issues, including integration of the security forces, arrangement of security in Juba, as well as the determination of state boundaries.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa