Pope Francis, Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, and Rev. Dr Iain Greenshields, Church of Scotland moderator, were to travel to the country from 5-7July at the invitation of South Sudanese president Salva Kiir Mayardit. However, the pilgrimage was put off due Pope Francis’s severe knee pain.
“Everyone is encouraged that the leaders were able to give messages to the South Sudanese people. We have received a message of hope from the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, which were both put on the national television,” said Archbishop Justin Badi Arama, primate of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan.
The archbishop said although there were mixed feelings since the people expected the world religious leaders to deliver the encouragement in their country, the church understood that God’s time is the best.
“So, we trust that the world leaders will schedule their coming again,” said the archbishop.
Rachael Juan, South Sudan Council of Churches advocacy coordinator, said the people had received the message well, although the anticipation of their presence there had been quite high.
“The people had hoped to see the leaders. Some are disappointed and the mood is low, but there is still hope,” said Juan.
While in South Sudan, the religious leaders were to meet Kiir Mayardit and his five deputies, local church leaders, internally displaced people from camps, and lead an open-air prayer vigil for peace in Juba, the capital city. The visit was meant to boost peace and reconciliation, and express the global church’s solidarity with the suffering millions.
“Let us not lose faith, but rather cherish the hope of meeting as soon as possible,” said Pope Francis in the message directed to the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan where he was to visit.
On South Sudan, the pontiff highlighted the persistent cry for peace, and the many people tired of violence and poverty who anxiously awaited the success of the national reconciliation process.
While regretting the postponement of the pilgrimage, Welby urged the South Sudanese leaders to pursue peace, telling them God sees and knows the suffering of the people.
“…I see the floods that endanger your homes; I see the famine that makes each day a struggle; and I see the violence that overshadows so much. Many of you cannot return to your homes,” said Welby in his message.
According to Arama, South Sudan’s most pressing issues include insecurity due to inter-communal violence, harsh economic challenges, and slow implementation of the Revitalized Agreement for the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan.
“We urge Christian leaders across the world to continue to pray for South Sudan that we can have real and sustainable peace, and stability,” said the archbishop.