“We hope to be with you soon”: Church Leaders on Postponed Ecumenical Visit to South Sudan

Dr Iain Greenshields(right) and Archbishop Justin Welby (left). Credit: Church of Scotland

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland have, in separate messages, assured the people of God in South Sudan that their ecumenical pilgrimage that was postponed will be realized. 

Pope Francis was previously scheduled to arrive in South Sudan on Tuesday, July 5 for a three-day visit alongside Archbishop Justin Welby, and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields, the immediate successor of Jim Wallace.

In individual video messages shared on July 2, both Church leaders reconfirm their respective desires to realize the trip and apologize to the people of God in South Sudan for the inconveniences caused in postponing the visit.

“I hope that I also will be with you very soon, with my brothers Pope Francis and Moderator Iain,” Archbishop Welby says in his  video message and adds, “May you know our prayers and love with you this week and always.” 

The Archbishop of Canterbury also appeals for prayers for the Holy Father, saying, “Join me in prayer for my dear brother, Pope Francis. I pray for his recovery, and that we will be able to visit South Sudan with the Moderator of the Church of Scotland very soon.”


Archbishop Welby extends his apologies to South Sudanese. He says, “My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. I am deeply sorry not to be making our planned pilgrimage of peace to South Sudan next week.”

“I was in South Sudan in 2014. Your country and your people have been in my heart and my daily prayers ever since,” he says, and adds, “You are people I love full of great vibrancy and powerful resilience. You are children of God, seen and chosen.”

He continues, “I see and know that you have suffered greatly and continue to suffer because of the floods that endanger your homes, the famine that makes each day a struggle, and I see the violence that overshadows so much that many of you cannot return to your homes.”

“Pope Francis, Moderator Iain, and I wanted to visit to encourage and stand in solidarity with you as you hope for peace,” Archbishop Welby further says.

He recalls when the visit was conceived in April 2019 during the spiritual retreat that brought together the South Sudanese President, the opposition leader, Dr. Machar, and the widow of South Sudanese leader John Garang, Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior, among other political and religious leaders from South Sudan.

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The ecumenical visit to South Sudan, Archbishop Welby says in his video message, “was promised during the spiritual retreat at the Vatican in 2019.”

“We promised to visit and your leaders promised to work together for the good of all South Sudanese,” he further says, and implores, “I pray that your leaders would remember those commitments because peace requires much more than not being at war. It must be created together, with your fellow leaders and even with your enemies.”

“There will be challenges ahead, and I pray that through them your leaders would listen to you and to themselves and to God, so that when we visit, we may pray with them for the healing of the nation,” Archbishop Welby says in the July 2 video message.

He adds, “I pray for all of you, in your daily choices, to change the spirit of revenge into the spirit of reconciliation. God knows how hard that is.”

“Christ on the cross chose forgiveness and service amid suffering. He showed us that those hardest things are our greatest strengths,” Archbishop Welby further says, adding that Jesus Christ “is with you by his spirit to the ends of the earth.”


In his own video message, Dr. Iain says he looks forward to the time when the three church leaders will be able to make their “pilgrimage of peace” to South Sudan.

“We were supposed to be with you in South Sudan. Unfortunately, due to the Pope's ill health that's not been possible,” the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland says.

He adds, “We look forward to the time when we will be able to come and share in a joint pilgrimage of peace with ourselves, the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church.”

“We very much look forward to that opportunity and we would like you to know that you are very much in our thoughts and in our prayers during these difficult times that you're having to experience,” Dr. Iain says.

He continues, “We hope that we'll be able to come and, in some way, serve and help you.”

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On July 2, the day he was previously scheduled to arrive in South Sudan, Pope Francis sent a video message urging the people of God in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan not to let themselves “be robbed of hope” despite his decision to postpone his pastoral trip to the two African nations.

Patrick Juma Wani is a South Sudanese journalist with a great zeal and interest for Catholic Church related communication. Patrick holds a Diploma in Journalism and Mass Communication from Makerere Institute for Social Development (MISD) in Uganda. He has over 7 years of extensive experience in leading the development and implementation of media, advocacy, communication and multimedia strategy and operations, with an excellent track record of editorial leadership, budget management, and stakeholder outreach. He currently works as a Journalist for ACI Africa.