Pope Francis to South Sudan with the Anglican Primate Welby

A one day journey to South Sudan, without spending the night in the country ravaged by war.

Mar 05, 2017

By Andrea Tornielli
A one day journey to South Sudan, without spending the night in the country ravaged by war. An ecumenical journey similar to the one where Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, went to the Greek island of Lesbos to visit a refugee camp. This was announced by Pope Francis as he answered a question from an African seminarian during his visit to the Anglican parish in Rome Sunday, February 26, 2017.

Francis was talking about how ‘young Churches’ have a lot to teach us. He said, “Young Churches have more vitality and a strong need to work together. For example, I’m studying...my staff is studying the possibility of a trip to South Sudan. Why? Because the Anglican, the Presbyterian and the Catholic bishops have come to me and the three told me: “Please come to South Sudan, only for one day, but don’t come alone, come with Justin Welby,” that is, with the Archbishop of Canterbury. From them, a young Church, came this creativity. And we’re thinking whether it is possible, the situation is so bad over there ... But we must do it because they, the three together, want peace, and they work together for peace … “Pope Francis has pointed out how the ecumenical invitation came from leaders of the three main Christian confessions in South Sudan, who hope the presence of the Bishop of Rome and the Primate of the Anglican Communion can help [the process of] pacification.”

In April 2016, after accepting Patriarch Bartholomew’s invitation, Francis was the first Pope to ever take an entirely ecumenical journey. A one day visit to the refugee camp of Moria on the island of Lesbos, one of the many landing places for thousands of refugees and migrants fleeing war, persecution and famine. During that journey, each programmed visit was shared with the Orthodox. The Pope has always been particularly sensitive in pointing out what he has often referred to as “ecumenism of the blood,” namely the fact that persecution does not make any difference between the different Christian denominations as the blood of martyrs is mixed.

The visit to South Sudan is still under study: the words used by Bergoglio highlight the hope that the project can be realised despite the difficult situation. More difficult than the one the Pope faced in November 2015 in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, where he had launched the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy one week in advance. On that occasion, before the journey, a truce was signed between the local guerrilla groups. It is unclear whether the invitation to come together to South Sudan provides for the possibility for the Pope and the Anglican primate to travel in the same plane: in this case, it would be the first time.

On February 22, during the general audience, Pope Francis had made a strong appeal in favour of the country that he could be visiting in the next few months as what would be his second trip to Africa. “Of particular concern — he said — the painful news coming from the battered southern Sudan, where a fratricidal conflict is compounded by a severe food crisis which has hit the Horn of Africa region and condemns to death, by starvation, millions of people, including many children.” At this time, it is more necessary than ever that all “commit not to stop at making statements, but also to provide concrete food aid and to allow it to reach suffering populations.” May the Lord sustain these brothers and those working to help them.”

Independent since 2011, South Sudan in 2013 has become the theatre of a new and bloody civil war that, despite peace agreements, was reawakened in July 2016 among the groups that support President Salva Kiir, belonging to Dinka ethnicity, and those linked to former deputy, Riek Machar of the Nuer ethnic group. The country has, therefore, returned to being an area of “deliberate killings of civilians, rapes and looting,” as denounced by international organisations and missionaries. --Vatican Insider

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