Pope 'looks forward' to South Sudan trip despite unrest

The Holy See has already announced that the pontiff will proceed with the latest African pilgrimage of his nine-year-old papacy

Pope Francis, above, will visit South Sudan together with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Jim Wallace, Moderator of the Church of Scotland.  Reuters
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Pope Francis is looking forward to visiting South Sudan in July, the pontiff, Archbishop of Canterbury and a Scottish church official said in a joint message.

The Pope is expected to visit South Sudan from July 5 to July 7, amid continuing unrest in the country.

The message released by the Vatican on Monday was addressed to South Sudanese political leaders and signed by the Pope, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Jim Wallace, Moderator of the Church of Scotland.

The three church officials will visit South Sudan together.

The Holy See announced two months ago that the pontiff would make the latest African pilgrimage of his nine-year-old papacy, beginning with a pastoral visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo on July 2.

The Pope’s mobility has been limited of late by a nagging knee problem. On Thursday, Francis, 85, was seen for the first time in public using a wheelchair.

The majority of South Sudan’s population is Christian.

Churches helped rally international support when the South Sudanese fought for independence from Sudan, which is overwhelmingly Muslim.

Ceasefire breaches

The Pope’s visit comes as unrest has intensified in South Sudan, with rival political powers trading accusations of breaching a ceasefire and peace agreement.

A 2018 peace agreement ended five years of bloody civil war between President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar, a conflict that left 400,000 dead and forced four million people to flee their homes.

On Saturday, a panel of UN experts recommended maintaining an arms embargo imposed on South Sudan.

The embargo had been due to expire at the end of the month and the UN Security Council is expected to discuss the matter on May 26.

The Panel of Experts on South Sudan recommended, in a 77-page report to the UN Security Council, that the embargo be maintained.

It has in any case been breached in the 12 months since it was extended in May 2021, said the experts, as the government had bought armoured troop carriers.

The peace accord provided for a power-sharing arrangement in a government of national unity, set up in 2020 with Mr Kiir as president and Mr Machar as vice-president.

But their rivalry has persisted, leaving many articles of the accord still to be respected, while armed clashes between the two sides have resumed.

While acknowledging there had been some progress, the report highlighted the continuing violence, as well as floods that had created "unprecedented levels of food insecurity".

"Millions remain displaced, with around 70 per cent of the population in need of humanitarian assistance," it said.

It also described state corruption and a "chaotic system of public finances".

Updated: May 09, 2022, 7:20 AM