Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury, leaders of the global Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches, will begin a historic joint visit to South Sudan on Friday, January 27th, against the backdrop of potential tensions over LGBTQ+ rights. The pilgrimage of peace will also be joined by the leader of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields.
The visit will provide an opportunity for Pope Francis, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and Greenshields to meet President Salva Kiir, bishops, clergy, and people displaced by conflict in the region. The visit has been described as a “pilgrimage of peace” and will aim to promote peace and unity among the people of South Sudan.
In the lead-up to the visit, Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby made statements regarding same-sex relationships that contrast with the deeply conservative views that predominate in South Sudan. Pope Francis stated that laws criminalizing homosexuality were unjust and that the Catholic Church should work to put an end to such laws. Archbishop Welby expressed his “extreme joy” at the prospect of Church of England clergy blessing same-sex couples in marriages, even though he will not personally offer such blessings.
Despite these statements, local political and church leaders have expressed their anger, with the head of the Anglican church in South Sudan, Archbishop Justin Badi Arama, claiming that Welby is “failing to defend biblical truth” and accusing the English bishops of “rewriting God’s law.”
The joint visit to South Sudan marks a significant moment in the relationship between the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches and will highlight the growing numbers of these churches in sub-Saharan Africa, in contrast to declining numbers in the West. The visit was postponed last July due to the advice of Francis’ doctors not to travel, but has been eagerly awaited for years. The visit is expected to promote peace and unity among the people of South Sudan, which continues to face violence, hunger, and instability despite a 2018 peace deal.