Pope Francis, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury and Rev. Iain Greenshields, moderator of the general assembly of the Church of Scotland, are visiting the world’s youngest nation for an ecumenical pilgrimage of peace from 3-5 February.
The rare visit has triggered much expectation, excitement, and celebration in the East African country, where many are Christians and followers of African traditional religions.
“I am expecting that the three global church leaders will speak strongly to the South Sudanese people and their leaders, calling on them to choose peace and work for peace—not just peace in words but true peace in action,” said Jackcilia Salathiel Ebere, the national women coordinator at the South Sudan Council of Churches.
Ebere, a human rights lawyer, said she hopes the visit will “melt the hard hearts of South Sudanese people so that they can finally reach a resolution to forgive each other, reconcile, and live in unity, peace and harmony.
“I am expecting that the three global church leaders will challenge us, South Sudanese, with the word of God—the gospel of love—the most important commandment,” said Ebere.
According to Ebere, spiritual and physical changes among the people and the surroundings were already visible ahead of the visit.
“The churches have become more united, are cooperating and working together as they prepare for this visit,” she said while highlighting, for example, Catholic and Anglican bishops of Rumbek and their followers had united in a nine-day, 400-kilometer walk to Juba to welcome the leaders.
“The impact I am seeing here is more unity, more harmony and more peaceful co-existence. The two churches have walked together, praying together and sharing experiences together as they walked to Juba.”
The government and the church have been working closely in the preparation for this visit, said Ebere. “It is my hope that even after the departure of the leaders, the cordial working relationships between the different churches and the government, and among different communities will endure,” she said.
Bishop Dr Isaiah Dau, a former general overseer of the Sudan Pentecostal Church, said he hoped the visit gives a thrust to the implementation of South Sudan’s peace process.
“The leaders are coming after the renewal of the transitional period. This is really important. We believe it is going to move the peace process forward…it is very encouraging. The visit will also encourage the people working for peace,” said the leader.
Dau said he was encouraging the leaders to desist from condemning the South Sudan leaders, “because what we hear from western governments is blame.”
“The leaders should be firm with our leaders, that they are on the right track, but they should accelerate the peace process to relieve the people who have suffered far too long,” he concluded.