[ACNS, by staff writer] The first joint pastoral visit by a Pope and an Archbishop of Canterbury could take place in South Sudan early next year, the Vatican and Lambeth Palace announced last night. The news came after a private audience between Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby at the Vatican’s Casa Santa Marta guest house.
“During the friendly talks we focused on the condition of Christians in the world and on some situations of international crisis, with particular reference to the painful reality facing South Sudan,” the Vatican Press Office said in a bulletin. “At the end of the meeting the Holy Father and the Archbishop of Canterbury agreed that, if the political situation in the country should allow the establishment of a transitional government of national unity in the next 100 days, at the expiry of the agreement signed in recent days in Entebbe, in Uganda, they intend to visit South Sudan together.”
Confirming the announcement, Archbishop Justin Welby said in a Facebook post: “We discussed our shared passion for peace in South Sudan and agreed that if the political situation permits the creation of a transitional government of national unity, it is our intention to visit together.
“Our commitment to the teaching of Jesus means we long to see a lasting solution to the conflict in South Sudan. We renew our call for spiritual and political leaders there to strive for peace.”
Responding to the announcement, the Anglican Primate of South Sudan, Archbishop Justin Badi Arama, told ACNS that “the Episcopal Church of South Sudan appreciates the continued interest in, and commitment to prayer for, South Sudan and her people from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby, and Pope Francis. We welcome their intention for a joint visit and join them in praying for lasting peace in South Sudan, and the formation of the new transitional government of national unity, which will enable this to happen.”
A joint pastoral visit by a Pope and an Archbishop of Canterbury would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. But it is not the first time that Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby have taken unprecedented joint action, particularly on peace in South Sudan. Earlier this month, at the invitation and with the participation of Pope Francis, Archbishop Justin led a spiritual retreat at the Vatican for South Sudan’s opposing political leaders.
The Churches of South Sudan have been united in acting as a catalyst for the ongoing peace process, working to end five years of a deadly civil war. Peace talks led by the Anglican Primate of South Sudan, Archbishop Justin Badi Arama, helped to renew the peace process which had stalled despite the efforts of IGAD, a regional inter-governmental body, which had been working to bring the warring parties together.
The audience was primarily held so that Archbishop Justin could introduce his new Personal Representative to the Holy See and Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, Archbishop Ian Ernest, to Pope Francis. Archbishop Justin said last night: “It was a great honour, as always, to visit the Pope. . . I never fail to be bowled over by his simple and sincere love for Jesus and his energy for sharing the good news.”