Ecumenical Visit to South Sudan “fulfillment of a great desire”: Catholic Bishop

Bishop Erkolano Lodu Tombe. Credit: ACI Africa

The arrival of three global church leaders in South Sudan on Friday, February 3 is a “fulfillment of a great desire” people have been yearning for, a Catholic Bishop in the East-Central African nation has said.

In a Thursday, February 2 interview with ACI Africa, Bishop Erkolano Lodu Tombe said the realization of the ecumenical visit involving Pope Francis, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields is to rekindle the hope for peace and stability in the country.

“The coming of the Holy Father is the fulfillment of the great desire that Bishops, Christians particularly the Catholics of South Sudan have been yearning for,” Bishop Tombe said, and added, “The coming of the Holy Father will bring peace into the minds and the hearts of the people.”

The 79-year-old Bishop emeritus of South Sudan’s Yei Diocese shared the background of the world’s youngest nation that gained independence from Sudan in July 2011, saying, “What divided South Sudan in terms of religion was Protestants and Catholics; but now what is dividing us is the political leadership.”

“If we have good political leadership this country would not be at war by now because peace would have come,” he said.


Bishop Erkolano Lodu Tombe speaks to Patrick Juma Wani, ACI Africa Correspondent in Juba, South Sudan. Credit: ACI Africa

The South Sudanese Catholic Bishop went on to encourage the people of God in South Sudan “to believe that they are not left alone but people are praying for them.”

“South Sudanese should not get discouraged if peace doesn’t come quickly because at the end of it what God wants is peace to reign in this country,” the Catholic Church leader who was at the helm of Yei Diocese from 1986 to 2022 said.

He added, “We should continue being resilient to think that the peace that God wants will eventually come.”

“We have to continue to pray for peace and to thank the Holy Father that peace has come, adding to the voice of those who want peace to come,” Bishop Tombe told ACI Africa on the eve of the arrival of Pope Francis, Archbishop Welby, and Rt. Rev. Greenshields in Juba. 

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Pope Francis landed in Juba, South Sudan on Friday, February 3 afternoon for the second leg of his two African nation trip, which began in the capital of DRC, Kinshasa, on January 31.

He was received at Juba international airport in a welcome ceremony before he proceeded to the Presidential Palace for a courtesy visit to the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir.

In his speech at the Presidential Palace, Pope Francis begged political leaders in South Sudan to work together to put an end to bloody conflict and violence in their country.

“In the name of God, of the God to whom we prayed together in Rome, of the God who is gentle and humble in heart, the God in whom so many people of this beloved country believe, now is the time to say ‘No more of this,’ we say no more, without ‘ifs’ or ‘buts,’” the Holy Father said, making reference to the April 2019 encounter that culminated in a dramatic gesture to President Kiir, and opposition leader Dr. Riek Machar, among other South Sudanese politicians.

Pope Francis who was addressing South Sudan’s President and the country’s three Vice Presidents in the garden of the Presidential residence in Juba further said, “No more bloodshed, no more conflicts, no more violence and mutual recriminations about who is responsible for it, no more leaving your people a thirst for peace.”


“No more destruction: It is time to build! Leave the time of war behind and let a time of peace dawn!” the Holy Father said during his February 3 address.

On his part, President Kiir who spoke before Pope Francis addressed them pledged to focus on realizing peace for his country.

“In honor of the Holy Father Pope Francis’ historic visit to our country, and our declaration of 2023 as the year of peace and reconciliation, I am officially announcing the lifting of the suspension of the Rome peace talks with the holdout groups,” President Kiir said.

He continued, “I hope that my brothers from the Non-Signatories South Sudan Opposition Group will reciprocate this gesture and engage with us honestly to achieve an inclusive peace in our country.”

President Kiir also mentioned the September 2022 Road Map, a transitional period of 24 months for the implementation of the September 2018 Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS).

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Credit: ACI Africa

In his last official activity of his first day in South Sudan, Pope Francis alongside Archbishop Welby and Rt. Rev. Greenshields engaged with authorities and members of the diplomatic corps in the garden of the Presidential Palace.

On Saturday, February 4, Pope Francis is to meet with Bishops, members of the Clergy, women and men Religious, and Seminarians at St. Theresa's Cathedral of Juba Archdiocese.

He is then scheduled to meet privately with Jesuits in South Sudan in the Apostolic Nunciature. 

The Pope is also expected to visit internally displaced persons (IDPs) at Freedom Hall in Juba.

In the evening, the Holy Father has been scheduled to participate in an ecumenical prayer service alongside Archbishop Welby and Rev. Greenshields at the John Garang Mausoleum. 

The same venue is scheduled to host Holy Mass on the morning of the last day of the ecumenical trip, on Sunday, February 5, to be followed by a farewell ceremony at Juba international airport at midmorning before Pope Francis leaves for Rome.