Pope plans South Sudan visit next year


Pope Francis wants to make his postponed visit to South Sudan next year and has urged the country’s leaders to overcome divisions and end the suffering of its people.

Francis spoke of the crisis in the world’s youngest country three days after its president and a former rebel leader agreed to delay forming a unity government for 100 days beyond the November 12 deadline, an extension of an original May deadline.

Speaking at his weekly blessing in St. Peter’s Square, Francis said he “will have to visit” South Sudan next year.

A trip by Francis to predominantly Christian South Sudan, was tentatively scheduled for 2017 but cancelled because of political instability and poor security.

“I want to renew my invitation to all sides in the national political process to seek what unites them and overcome what divides in a spirit of true brotherhood,” Francis said.

Last April the pope brought South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, opposition leader Riek Machar and other politicians to the Vatican for a retreat.

In a dramatic gesture on the last day of the retreat, Francis knelt at the feet of the previously warring leaders as he urged them not to return to a civil war that ended with a shaky peace deal in 2018.

Referring to the civil war in his lengthy appeal, Francis said the people of South Sudan“ suffered too much in recent years and are waiting for the definitive end of conflicts and lasting peace”.

The five-year conflict killed an estimated 400 000 people, triggered a famine and created Africa’s biggest refugee crisis since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

The pope wants to make the trip with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, head of the worldwide Anglican Communion and Presbyterian Church leaders from Africa to promote unity in South Sudan.