Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields, Moderator of the Church of Scotland, joined Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury for a ‘pilgrimage of peace’ to the world’s youngest country. Here’s why he’s believing for better for South Sudan
Extraordinary, surreal, humbling and hopeful.
These are just a few words that sum up my pilgrimage of peace to South Sudan with Pope Francis and Most Rev Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury.
It was an historic moment – three Christian denominations standing shoulder to shoulder for the first time, wrapped in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
It was a moment more than 500 years in the making. We went as servants in Christ, in humility and love, to encourage a change in hearts and minds.
It was a privilege and a liberation of the spirit of God, and the rapturous reception of the tens of thousands of people who lined the streets and filled venues was astounding.
A crushing reality
But the joy and happiness etched on their faces hid a crushing reality. The brave and resilient people that we stood alongside are desperately tired of their profound suffering, caused by continued armed conflict, violence, corruption, floods and famine.
We heard their cries and anguish, their hopes and dreams loud and clear.
As the world’s youngest country, South Sudan has great potential. The call for peace, forgiveness, reconciliation, stability, prosperity and justice is deafening, and we truly hope that those in power are listening.
This is no stronger than among the country’s young people. They are the future; the ones who will write this nation’s next chapter. Between 60 and 70 per cent of the country’s 11 million population identify as Christian. The Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian churches work closely together to try and make a difference.
We went as servants in Christ, in humility and love, to encourage a change in hearts and minds
It was an honour to represent the Church of Scotland which, along with members of the Presbyterian Church USA, was invited to take part due to its partnership with the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan. Since 2015, the Kirk has helped South Sudanese church leaders work at both a grassroots and political level, to bring unnecessary conflict to an end and build lasting peace.
During our recent visit, we took that mission a step further by drawing the light of the world’s press on South Sudan and speaking truth to power.
Since the country gained independence from Sudan in 2011, President Salva Kiir Mayardit and First Vice-president, Riek Machar, have been uneasy allies. But both indicated a willingness to encourage people to move forward in the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation. I believe that it is within their reach to extend justice and compassion to all, and that the door is now open to signing the stalled 2018 peace agreement.
Inaction is unconscionable. More than 400,000 people have now lost their lives through civil war. 9.4 million people need humanitarian aid and an estimated 8 million people are expected to experience food insecurity in 2023. Two million people are living in makeshift camps, while many others have fled abroad.
Between 60 and 70 per cent of South Sudan’s 11 million population identify as Christian
Women and girls are extremely vulnerable due to sexual and gender-based violence. My colleague, Rev Fiona Smith, principal clerk to the Church of Scotland General Assembly, spent time with some of them. She said their beaming smiles and air of hopefulness took her breath away, while their cries of pain left her heartbroken.
They have no voice, and so the international community has a responsibility to speak up on their behalf and call for an end to the barbaric treatment of women and girls.
South Sudan needs our urgent help. I would strongly urge the UK Government to restore its international aid budget, cut by 59 per cent in 2021, to its previous level in order to help humanitarian aid agencies swimming against a tidal wave of need.
Together with my brothers and sisters in Christ, I will continue to hold the people of South Sudan in my prayers and highlight their plight. Now, it is up to those in power to turn warm words into meaningful action. The world is watching.