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Archbishop “horrified” by killings on eve of historic ecumenical pilgrimage to South Sudan

Posted on: February 2, 2023 8:51 PM
Motorists drive past a billboard showing the preparations to welcome Pope Francis, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Church of Scotland Moderator Iain Greenshields, ahead of their visit in Juba from 3-5 February
Photo Credit: Thomas Mukoya / Reuters

UPDATED: 8.27 am GMT, Friday 3 February 2023

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has expressed his horror at the news that 27 people have been killed in Kajo-Keji, on the eve of his historic Ecumenical Peace Pilgrimage with Pope Francis and the Moderator of the presbyterian Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields.

The Minister of Information and Communication for the Government of Central Equatorial State, Dr Andruga Mabe Saverio, said that cattle herders had “conducted a savagery house-to-house murder of innocent unarmed civilians as a sheer revenge attack after [an] unknown armed group assaulted their camps in a hit and run mission which led to the death of both cattle herders and their animals this morning [Thursday 2 February] at 5 am.”

The Reuters news agency has since reported that the death toll from the violence is 27: six herders were killed in the initial attack and then 21 people in the revenge killings.

Dr Saverop said that the people and government of the State “woke up to the saddest news of the renewed bleeding of Kajo-Keji County” He said that the government “condemns tin the strongest terms possible the barbaric and systematic killing of innocent civilians” and he sent condolences to the bereaved families.

Speaking ahead of his visit, before the latest death toll figures were released, Archbishop Justin Welby said: “I am horrified that at least 19 people were killed in Kajo-Keji on the eve of our Pilgrimage of Peace. It is a story too often heard across South Sudan. I again appeal for a different way: for South Sudan to come together for a just peace.

“My prayers are with the families affected and all South Sudan, as I begin my travel there tonight to join my brothers Pope Francis and Moderator Iain, and to be with the South Sudanese people.”

The Diocese of Kajo-Keji is currently without a diocesan bishop, after the death in December of Bishop Emmanuel Murye Modi. The Anglican / Episcopal Archbishop of the Central Equatoria internal province, Archbishop Paul Yugusuk, is serving caretaker Bishop of Kajo-Keji in addition to his duties as Bishop of Lainya.

Speaking at a press conference today, Archbishop Paul urged the three church leaders to meet with and pray for the families of those killed, while in South Sudan. “I would like to express my deepest sadness over the murder, the barbaric killing, of 20 civilians in Kajo-Keji County”, he said. “I call upon the government – and specifically the government of Central Equatoria Internal Province, and I also call upon President Salva Kiir Mayardit – to intervene immediately to protect our people and to bring those who have committed this action into book.”

The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Bishop Anthony Poggo, is a former Bishop of Kajo-Keji and is in South Sudan to accompany the Archbishop of Canterbury on the Ecumenical Peace Pilgrimage. “It was very sad to hear of the killing of at least 20 innocent people in Kajo-Keji on 2 February, on the eve of the ecumenical pilgrimage of peace by the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland”, he said on Thursday night. “My heart goes out to the families affected and the people of Kajo-Keji.

“I had just visited the Kajo-Keji to console with the family of late Bishop Emmanuel, my successor. I was aware of the problems between cattle herders and the farmers but did not expect it to escalate to this level. I appeal for a lasting solution to this problem across South Sudan. May the people of South Sudan learn to solve their problems in non violent ways.

“Shun revenge – Romans 12:19 says that Vengeance is mine says the Lord. Mahatma Ghandi said: ‘an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind’. May justice, peace and reconciliation prevail in South Sudan. Remembering the words of Christ in Matthew 5:9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.’

This weekend’s visit is part of the Pope’s Apostolic Journey to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, which began on Tuesday (31 January). During the three-day visit to South Sudan, which begins tomorrow, the Church leaders will meet the country’s political leaders, hold an open-air ecumenical prayer vigil for peace and meet with people displaced by the conflict.

Archbishop Justin Welby is accompanied in South Sudan by his wife, Mrs Caroline Welby, who has made several previous visits to South Sudan to support women in the Church in their role as peacebuilders, particularly the wives of South Sudan’s Anglican bishops and archbishops.

Before today’s killings, in the days leading up to this weekend’s historic ecumenical peace pilgrimage, the three Church leaders expressed their hopes for the visit and called on people across the world to pray for peace in South Sudan.

Archbishop Justin Welby said: “I am profoundly grateful to be visiting the people of South Sudan with my dear brothers in Christ, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, and the Right Revd Dr Iain Greenshields, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. We have prayed for many years for this visit – and we now look forward to being in Juba together.

“Our visit is a Pilgrimage of Peace. We come as servants – to listen to and amplify the cries of the South Sudanese people, who have suffered so much and continue to suffer because of conflict, devasting flooding, widespread famine and much more. Over the past three years and even since July, violence has intensified in many parts of the country. We hope to review and renew the commitments made by South Sudanese leadership at the Vatican in 2019, and the commitments they have made to their people since then.

“We come as brothers in Christ to worship together and witness to the God who reconciles us. The communities of South Sudan have a legacy of powerful witness to their faith. Through working together, they have been a sign and instrument of the reconciliation God desires for their whole country and all of creation. We hope to build on and reenergise that legacy.”

He continued: “This will be a historic visit. After centuries of division, leaders of three different parts of the Church are coming together in an unprecedented way, and in so doing are seeking to be part of answering another prayer – Jesus’ prayer – that his followers might be one – ‘ut unum sint’ (John: 17).

“We come as followers of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, knowing that his Holy Spirit is at work in South Sudan and has the power to transform hearts. His love and welcome are on offer to all. It is through him that we find our deepest peace and our most profound hopes for justice. And so I ask you to pray with us for the people of South Sudan.”

Mrs Welby said: “I have worked and worshipped with many of the women in South Sudan and find myself humbled by their stories. They have borne the grief of war and carry the responsibility to provide for their families. Many of them live with the trauma of displacement in their own country, refugees in other countries, sexual violence and the daily fear of mistreatment in their own homes and communities.

“And yet they are also incredible women of strength, praising God and coming to him for their refreshment. It is a privilege to walk alongside them, and I pray that their example is held up in South Sudan and around the world.

“Women around the world so often bear the scars of conflict in deeply profound, often unseen, ways. Women who have brought life into this world, nurtured children and provided spiritual guidance for their communities have the pain of witnessing lives torn apart.

“God creates each life and gives it unique value, potential and purpose according to his will. It is often our physical and spiritual mothers who see that. Which means it is powerful when women unite and their voices are heard. It can be the start of healing and restoration. Please pray with me for the women and men of South Sudan – for unity, for understanding, and for just peace.”

Addressing crowds in Saint Peter’s Square after his traditional Angelus message last Sunday (29 January), Pope Francis said that the DRC and South Sudan, “situated in the centre of the great African continent, have suffered greatly from lengthy conflicts. . . South Sudan, wracked by years of war, longs for an end to the constant violence that forces many people to be displaced and to live in conditions of great hardship.

“In South Sudan, I will arrive together with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Together, as brothers, we will make an ecumenical pilgrimage of peace, to entreat God and men to bring an end to the hostilities and for reconciliation.

“I ask everyone, please, to accompany this Journey with their prayers.”

Dr Iain Greenshields, Moderator of the Church of Scotland, is a leading figure in world Presbyterianism. He said that the treen Church leaders were making their Pilgrimage of Peace “as servants” to stand in unified solidarity with local people and to “amplify” their cries as they continue to suffer from conflict, flooding and famine.

“South Sudan is the youngest country in the world and has enormous potential”, he said. “Its greatest resource is its people and I am humbled at the opportunity to come alongside and support our brothers and sisters in their search for peace, reconciliation and justice.

“It is a privilege to be joining Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury on this historic ecumenical Pilgrimage of Peace and we come as servants of the global Church, joined in the unity of the Holy Spirit to offer our encouragement.

“The Churches in South Sudan – Presbyterian, Anglican and Catholic – have an important role to play in supporting efforts to bring peace to the nation and we are honoured to be part of this journey.”