Praying with South Sudan's Christians, leaders urge new steps toward unity

As part of their historic ecumenical pilgrimage to South Sudan, Pope Francis, Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury and the Rev. Iain Greenshields, moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, led an ecumenical prayer for peace Feb. 4 in Juba.

Praying with South Sudan's Christians, leaders urge new steps toward unity

Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby, Pope Francis and Rev. Iain Greenshields, moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, give the final blessing together at the conclusion of an ecumenical prayer service at the John Garang Mausoleum in Juba, South Sudan, Feb. 4, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)



JUBA, South Sudan (CNS) -- After scolding South Sudan's political leaders and consoling some of its poorest victims, Pope Francis, Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury and the Rev. Iain Greenshields, moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, rallied their faithful to prayer and action.

In a country where 60% of the population is Christian and where Christian leaders working together provided spiritual and practical support to the long drive for independence, the church leaders urged all Christians to work together to seek justice, to model unity and to press their divided political leaders to make peace.

"This ecumenical tradition of South Sudan is a precious treasure, an act of praise for the name of Jesus and an act of love for the church his bride, an example to all for the advancement of Christian unity," Pope Francis said.

Some 50,000 South Sudanese gathered with the three leaders Feb. 4 for an evening ecumenical prayer service on the grounds of the John Garang Mausoleum, the burial place of the man who led the country to the 2005 peace agreement that set the stage for the country's independence from Sudan in 2011.

Rev. Greenshields told the crowd that the leaders' ecumenical pilgrimage was meant "to encourage the continued unity of the churches for the common good of the people of South Sudan, for justice and fullness of life for each and every citizen of this country."

In his remarks, Pope Francis focused on the obligation of Christians "to pray, to work and to journey" together, breaking down all walls of suspicion and hostility between different political, ethnic or denominational groups while also valuing the unique identity of each.

God's peace, he said, is "not only a truce amid conflicts, but a fraternal fellowship that comes from uniting and not absorbing; from pardoning and not overpowering; from reconciling and not imposing."

Jesus' command to all who follow him is "that you love one another," and "it contradicts every 'tribal' understanding of religion," the pope said. "'That they may all be one.' That is Jesus' heartfelt prayer to the Father for all of us who believe."

Archbishop Welby gave the homily at the prayer gathering as the sun set, providing some relief from the day's high heat.

"The only way the world will know Jesus came from the Father is when his are one for God is one," the archbishop said. "Our being one is how the world will know that Jesus is Lord, that God reigns over all powers and authorities, that the glory of the Father is believed, and more people come to know his love."

When one is a Christian one is part of the same family, he said. "My dear brothers, Pope Francis, Moderator Iain and I are here as part of your family, your fellowship, to be with you and share with you in your suffering. We have traveled on this pilgrimage of peace in a way that has not been done before ever."

"We cannot, we will not, be separated," the archbishop told the crowd. "Nothing on earth can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. Nothing can separate us from one another who share in that love. The blood of Christ unites us, regardless of our differences. It is sufficient alone for our salvation. We need no other sacrifices. My sister and brother are never, never, never my enemies."

Those who claim the name Christian must act like Christians, he said, and should look to the earliest Christian communities as a model of sharing, of seeking reconciliation when there were disagreements and of reaching out to help others.

"When we recognize that everything is God's, we are no longer fearful of losing it, because we know that God is a God of abundance, not lack, of greatness, not scarcity," Archbishop Welby said. "We no longer cling to things when we know in our souls that everything belongs to God."

The archbishop had special words of encouragement for the young people of South Sudan, a nation where some 70% of the population is under the age of 30. "If we value you, we will listen to your hopes for peace and opportunity and allow those hopes to shape our nations and churches."

"You will not be deceived into war. You will not be forced to kill," the archbishop said. "You will disagree with others, but still love them."

But he also had a message for young men: "You will value and honor women, never raping, never violent, never cruel, never using them as those there simply to satisfy desire."

"When we are one, we value and honor women," Archbishop Welby said.


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