Archbishop of Canterbury leads Vatican spiritual retreat with Pope

Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, led a spiritual retreat for South Sudan’s leaders at the Vatican this week.

The “unprecedented” spiritual retreat, which finished yesterday, was described by Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti as a “propitious occasion for reflection and prayer”.

He says it offered “an occasion for encounter and reconciliation, in a spirit of respect and trust, to those who in this moment have the mission and the responsibility to work for a future of peace and prosperity for the South Sudanese people.”

The leaders representing the South Sudanese civil authorities were the members of the Presidency of the Republic of South Sudan. They will assume positions of great national responsibility in May. They  were joined by eight members of the South Sudan Council of Churches, representing South Sudan’s ecclesiastical authorities.

South Sudan – the world’s youngest country – has spent most of its eight years in a state of civil war. A peace deal brokered last year by the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the nation’s Churches is fragile.

Organisers of this week’s retreat say they hope it will bring the parties together and aid efforts at reconciliation.

Prior to the retreat, a spokesperson for the Archbishop of Canterbury said the joint Anglican-Catholic initiative “could be a step on a journey .. to build confidence and trust between parties and give them spiritual nourishment.”

Participants at the retreat were given a Bible signed by Pope Francis, Archbishop Justin Welby and the former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, John Chalmers.

The Bibles included the message: “Seek that which unites. Overcome that which divides”.

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