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Archbishop of Canterbury sends ecumenical solidarity message to South Sudan’s leaders

Posted on: July 13, 2021 11:43 AM
South Sudanese people celebrate as the country marks the 10th anniversary of independence, in Juba, South Sudan on Friday (9 July)
Photo Credit: Samir Bol / Reuters

Archbishop Justin Welby, Pope Francis and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland speak out on the 10th anniversary of South Sudan. 

South Sudan’s leaders “should make even greater efforts to enable [their] people to enjoy the full fruits of independence”, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, Pope Francis, and Church of Scotland Moderator Lord Jim Wallace have said. They made their comments in a joint letter to mark the country’s 10th anniversary of independence. 

After decades of war against successive ruling regimes in Sudan, the southern part of the country came into existence as an independent nation on 9 July 2011. Despite gaining independence, conflict continues in the country. 

In their joint message, sent on Friday (9 July), they said: “on this day marking 10 years since South Sudan’s independence, we send you our cordial good wishes, conscious that this anniversary calls to mind your past struggles and points with hope to the future. Your nation is blessed with immense potential, and we encourage you to make even greater efforts to enable your people to enjoy the full fruits of independence.” 

They continued: “sadly, your people continue to live in fear and uncertainty, and lack confidence that their nation can indeed deliver the ‘justice, liberty and prosperity’ celebrated in your national anthem. Much more needs to be done in South Sudan to shape a nation that reflects God’s kingdom, in which the dignity of all is respected and all are reconciled.

“We recall with joy and thanksgiving the historic meeting of the political and religious leaders of South Sudan at the Vatican in 2019 and the weighty promises made on that occasion. We pray that those promises will shape your actions, so that it will become possible for us to visit and celebrate with you and your people in person, honouring your contributions to a nation that fulfils the hopes of 9 July 2011. In the meantime, we invoke upon you and all in South Sudan God’s blessings of fraternity and peace.”

In 2019, Pope Francis hosted an unprecedented retreat at the Vatican, led by Archbishop Justin Welby and a former Moderator of the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland, for the political leaders of South Sudan and the South Sudan Council of Churches. It was the first time since the Reformation that Reformed, Anglican, and Roman Catholic Churches had come together for such an event.

The Archbishop, Pope and Moderator of the Church of Scotland also wrote to the leaders of South Sudan at Christmas, urging them to go further in seeking peace.

A former Bishop of Kajo-Keji in South Sudan, Bishop Anthony Poggo, is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Adviser on Anglican Communion Affairs. In an article for this week’s Church Times newspaper, he reflected on what peace would mean for South Sudan.

“The reality is that peace means different things to different people,” he said. “I was asked in a conference a few years ago how I would define peace in South Sudan. My immediate response was that peace, to me, is when I can sit under my mango tree in Kajo-Keji without any fear of attacks from the national army or any of the other groups who took up arms.

“It is when I can collect food from my own garden, as I have had no interruption to the season of cultivation, and no cattle or goats are roaming around being herded by herders with AK-47 guns, perhaps with the owner of these cattle sitting somewhere in Juba or other parts of South Sudan.

“At the time of writing, what I have described above indicates that peace is still a long way off. Many people do not have the confidence in settling back in their villages, as some of the issues that led them to flee from their homes of origin have not been settled.”

In reflecting on the role of faith leaders in building peace in South Sudan, he said: “The Church has an important part to play in teaching and encouraging reconciliation.”