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Pope Francis: I will visit South Sudan with Archbishop Welby

In answering a question in All Saints Anglican church in Rome, Pope Francis announced plans for a one-day visit to South Sudan together with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. After the historical visit to the Greek island of Lesbos with the Patriarch of Constantinople to meet the “refugees of the sea”, the ecumenism of charity is set to reach yet another destination

After the visit to the Greek island of Lesbos with the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew to meet the “refugees of the sea”, the ecumenism of charity will soon reach yet another destination: South Sudan. Pope Francis made the announcement on Sunday, February 26, answering a question on the “young Churches” during the meeting with the faithful of All Saints Anglican church in Rome

“My aides and I – the Pope said – are studying the possibility of a one-day visit to South Sudan. The Country is going through a difficult situation.”

Hence the visit will be short, but it will be marked by a powerful ecumenical bearing. Pope Francis pointed out: “the Anglican, Presbyterian, and Catholic bishops of South Sudan came to ask me, ‘please, come to South Sudan. But don’t come alone, come with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’.”

Great initiatives are not born out of nothing; they are rooted in a years-long history of relationships, friendship and cooperation that has many protagonists. Also in this case, this “story” is the result of many steps.

At the end of October Pope Francis received the Archbishop of Juba, Paulino Lukudu Loro, along with the Archbishop of the Episcopalian Province of South Sudan, Daniel Deng Bul Yak, and the moderator of the Presbyterian Church, Peter Gai Lual Marrow. They conveyed to the Pope their concerns over the serious situation in the Country, asking him to voice an appeal to the government and to the international community.

As was later confirmed by the Pope, the Church leaders had also shared their “dream” to see Pope Francis in South Sudan together with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

A month later, at the end of November, the same delegation was received by the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace, during which they updated him on the situation inside the Country, on the activity of the Churches and on what had emerged in the recent meeting with the Pope in Rome.

The gravity of the present situation in South Sudan is such that past February 20 the Government declared a state of famine in certain parts of the State after the calamity caused the death of several inhabitants: as many as 100 000 face catastrophic hunger. A further 1 million people are on the brink of famine. The ongoing food crisis is the result of several factors such as draught, plummeting economy, and most of all the civil war that broke out in December 2013, which ended in 2016 with the adoption of a fragile peace treaty. Since the eruption of tensions that broke out between the military loyal to President Salva Kiir and those supporting ex Vice-President Riek Machar, in December 2013, 1 million and a half people from South Sudan (100 thousand since the beginning of 2017) fled to the South, in Uganda, escaping from violence and hunger. Some 1000 to 4 thousand people cross the border every day, according to estimates.

Over 270 thousand South-Sudanese refugees are hosted in the Bindi Bindi makeshift camp in northern Uganda, which after only six months became one of the largest refugee camps in the world.

Archbishop Justin Welby has always had at heart the situation of extreme precariousness in the Country, and has made repeated appeals to end all hostilities. In his latest appeal, past July, the Archbishop voiced his strong condemnation of the ongoing hostilities:

“Those that pursue violence will face the judgement of God in answer to the cries of the souls of those whose death they have caused.”

Archbishop Welby visited South Sudan with his wife Caroline in 2014. On that occasion he met with representatives of the government, civil society, along with delegates of the UN mission. On that occasion he proposed to President Salva Kiir the path of forgiveness as a way for future peace.

Now the world will turn its gaze to this people, as it did for the refugees in Lesbos. The peace and the salvation of a Country are difficult goals to achieve, almost impossible in fact when poverty and wars put its future at risk. Pope Francis has decided he will not face these challenges alone but together with the leaders of all Christian Churches. It’s the ecumenism of charity; it’s the ecumenism of walking together along the paths of humanity, the suffering and poor humanity in particular. First with Patriarch Bartholomew in Lesbos, now with Archbishop Welby in South Sudan. By uniting their forces they will deeply impact the destiny of the human family.

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