Photo Credit: Vatican Television
Political and Christian leaders from South Sudan will gather in the Vatican this week for an unprecedented spiritual retreat led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Pope Francis. The retreat was described by Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti as a “propitious occasion for reflection and prayer, as well as an occasion for encounter and reconciliation, in a spirit of respect and trust, to those who in this moment have the mission and the responsibility to work for a future of peace and prosperity for the South Sudanese people.”
South Sudan – the world’s youngest country – has spent most of its eight years in a state of civil war. A peace deal brokered last year by the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the nation’s Churches is fragile. Organisers of this week’s retreat hope it will bring the parties together and aid efforts at reconciliation.
Mr Gisotti said today that plans for the retreat were proposed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and approved by Pope Francis. It will take place in the Domus Sanctae Marthae – the official Vatican guest house within the walls of Vatican City – on Wednesday and Thursday. The Vatican spokesman said that “the highest civil and ecclesiastical authorities of South Sudan will participate.”
A spokesperson for the Archbishop of Canterbury said that the joint initiative “could be a step on a journey”, adding: “It is hoped that a retreat will build confidence and trust between parties and give them spiritual nourishment.”
The retreat will bring together a number of political leaders who, under the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan, a number of people “will assume positions of great national responsibility this coming 12 May”, the Vatican spokesman said. These include President Salva Kiir Mayardit and four of the five designated Vice Presidents: Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon, James Wani Igga, Taban Deng Gai and Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior.
Eight members of the South Sudan Council of Churches will take part in the retreat, including the Catholic Archbishop of Gulu, John Baptist Odama. The Anglican Primate of South Sudan, Archbishop Justin Badi Arama, will also take part.
The retreat will end at 5 pm CET (3 pm GMT) on Thursday (11 April) when Pope Francis will make a speech.
Participants will be given a Bible signed by Pope Francis, Archbishop Justin Welby, and the former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, John Chalmers. It will include the message “Seek that which unites. Overcome that which divides”.