The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, was in the Vatican this week to lead a retreat for civil and ecclesiastical authorities of South Sudan.
Pope Francis approved the proposal presented by the Archbishop of Canterbury, His Grace Justin Welby, to organise a spiritual retreat to take place in the Vatican, within the Domus Sanctae Marthae, which happened on the 10-11 April. The highest civil and ecclesiastical authorities of South Sudan participated.
Representing the civil authorities at the event, were the members of the Presidency of the Republic of South Sudan, who, under the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan, will assume positions of great national responsibility this coming 12 May: Mr. Salva Kiir Mayardit, President of the Republic, as well as four of the five designated Vice Presidents: Mr. Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon, Mr. James Wani Igga, Mr. Taban Deng Gai and Ms. Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior.
Representing the ecclesiastical authorities of the country were eight members of the South Sudan Council of Churches including the Anglican Primate of South Sudan, Archbishop Justin Badi Arama. His Excellency, Archbishop John Baptist Odama, Archbishop of Gulu (Uganda), and the Reverend Father Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, S.J., President of the Conference of Major Superiors of Africa and Madagascar, provided the preaching during the retreat.
Occasion for encounter and reconciliation
This event was organised with the goal of offering, on the part of the Church, a propitious occasion for reflection and prayer, as well as an occasion for encounter and reconciliation, in a spirit of respect and trust, to those who at this moment have the mission and the responsibility to work for a future of peace and prosperity for the South Sudanese people.
A spokesperson for the Archbishop of Canterbury said that the joint initiative “could be a step on a journey”, adding: “It is hoped that a retreat will build confidence and trust between parties and give them spiritual nourishment.”
Pope Francis shocked the church and political leaders present at the retreat when he broke off from his prepared remarks to make a personal plea to South Sudan’s political leaders.
“To the three of you who have signed the peace agreement, I ask you as a brother: stay in peace”, Pope Francis said. “I am asking you with my heart. Let us go forward. There will be many problems but they will not overcome us. Go ahead, go forward, and resolve the problems. You have begun a process. May it end well.
“There will be struggles and disagreements amongst you, but let this be within the community – inside the office, as it were – but in front of the people, hold hands, united; so as simple citizens you will become fathers of the nation.”
He said he was asking from his heart with his deepest sentiments, before walking towards the leaders and kneeling to kiss their feet; to the evident shock and surprise of those present.
Pope Francis concluded the retreat with prayer and all those participating in the retreat were given a Bible, signed by His Holiness Pope Francis, by His Grace Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, and by the Reverend John Chalmers, former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, with the message “Seek that which unites. Overcome that which divides”.
The Anglican primate of South Sudan, Archbishop Justin Bada Arama, used Twitter to thank people for their prayers. “We have concluded the healing retreat today at the Vatican”, he said. “We were all commissioned by the Holy Father, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Presbyterian Moderator of Scotland to go and be ambassadors of peace and reconciliation in South Sudan.”
As the political and Church leaders were gathered at the Vatican, an ecumenical group of women were taking part in three days of prayer and fasting at the headquarters of the South Sudan Council of Churches in Juba.