Photo Credit: SSCC / Twitter
As a unique ecumenical spiritual retreat at the Vatican for the political and Church leaders of South Sudan enters its second day, a group of Christian women are gathered in Juba for three days of prayer and fasting. The women are gathered at the South Sudan Council of Churches headquarters as part of a monthly pattern of prayer and fasting for peace organised by the ecumenical group’s women’s desk. The initiative began in 2013 after the conflict erupted in Juba and has continued ever since.
South Sudan’s 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, are at the Vatican for the retreat. The unprecedented event was proposed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and approved by Pope Francis. The Archbishop and the Pope are both helping to lead the retreat, alongside the former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, John Chalmers.
A joint visit to South Sudan by Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury had been mooted in February 2017. It would have been the first joint pastoral visit by the leaders of the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches, but the increasing deterioration of the security situation in South Sudan caused by the ongoing civil war meant that the visit had to be shelved.
Many people around the world have joined in prayer for the retreat in the hope that, as a spokesperson for the Archbishop of Canterbury said, it “could be a step on a journey” and might “build confidence and trust between parties and give them spiritual nourishment.”
Under a recently signed but fragile peace deal, a new Transitional Government of National Unity is due to be formed next month led by President Kiir, with opposition leader Riek Machar as his deputy. But there are obstacles in the way of the peace deal’s implementation.
Ahead of the retreat, which concludes today, Vatican Spokesman Alessandro Gisotti described the event as a propitious occasion for reflection and prayer, as well as an occasion for encounter and reconciliation.”