A historic pilgrimage between the Catholic Church, Church of England and the Church of Scotland to South Sudan officially began on Friday as Pope Francis touched down at Juba Airport.
On Friday afternoon, a colourful ceremony greeted the pontiff’s plane and moderator of the general assembly of the Church of Scotland, Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, boarded to greet him.
Hundreds of thousands of people, many waving the British flag, lined the streets, cheering, waving and singing as convoy containing their three spiritual leaders made its way from the airport to the “Palais de la Nation”.
South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 and is the world’s youngest country.
The religious leaders hope the visit will renew a commitment to peace and reconciliation.
An estimated 9.4 million people need humanitarian aid and an estimated two million people have been displaced in the country.
Senior Kirk clergy held a private meeting with President Salva Kiir Mayardit and his vice-presidents.
Addressing crowds, Pope Francis said: “I am pleased to be in this country, which has a special place in my heart. I am grateful to you, Mr President, for your welcome, and I offer a cordial greeting to each of you, and through you, to all the men and women living in this young and beloved country.
“I have come here as a pilgrim of reconciliation, in the hope of accompanying you on your journey of peace. It is a circuitous journey, yet one that can no longer be postponed.
“Nor am I here by myself, for in peace as in life, we all journey together. So I have come with two brothers, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, whom I thank for all that they will say to us.
“Together, stretching out our hands, we present ourselves to you and to this people in the name of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.”
Dr Greenshields said: “I come to you in this time of pilgrimage, with my brothers in Christ – Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin – we come in humility, unity and love.
“We come from our different traditions as servants of Christ and seek to share His hope that all will be one in Him, that churches and people will work together and witness together for a better future for the people of South Sudan, and for the whole world.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, said Jesus, who is the Prince of Peace, a peace which brings justice for all – families, tribes, nations.
“Today, we need that peace.
“We need churches and leaders who are generous of heart, liberal of love, and profligate with God’s grace.
“We need leaders who care about the values by which our countries’ live, who care about the conditions in which people live, and who act out their faith in work amongst the most vulnerable and marginalised.
“These things make for peace.”