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Pope Francis, Archbishop of Canterbury Expected to Visit South Sudan this Year: Reports

Pope Francis. Credit: Daniel Ibanez. / Archbishop Justin Welby. Credit: Lambeth Palace Picture Partnership.

Pope Francis and the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury are expected to visit South Sudan to “encourage the peace process,” various media reports indicate.

“God willing, sometime in the next few months, perhaps year, we will go and see them in Juba, not in Rome, and see what progress can be made,” Archbishop Justin Welby has been quoted as saying in a Monday, February 7 report.

“That is history,” Archbishop Welby says about the joint trip to South Sudan that, if undertaken, would mark the first time the two church leaders undertake an ecumenical pastoral visit together.

In December 2021, the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States said that the wish by Pope Francis to visit South Sudan had received “great support”.

Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher who held meetings with South Sudanese political and religious leaders as well as collaborators of the Archbishop of Canterbury from December 21 was quoted as saying that Pope Francis has expressed the wish to visit South Sudan on multiple occasions and notified those involved in organizing such a visit.

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“We believe that there is great support for a visit. Though like all these things, there is never the perfect time – so we have to move forward in the whole process of discerning,” the Vatican-based English Archbishop said when he visited South Sudan’s capital, Juba, last December.

In 2017, Pope Francis expressed his desire to undertake an ecumenical visit to the world’s youngest nation alongside the head of the Anglican church.

“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.

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This was during the April 2019 spiritual retreat that brought together the South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit, the opposition leader, Riek Machar, and the widow of South Sudanese leader John Garang, Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior, among other political and religious leaders from South Sudan.

“The purpose of this retreat is for us to stand together before God and to discern his will," Pope Francis further said.

He added, "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.

“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 April 2019 spiritual retreat that had been conceived by Archbishop Welby.

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