Pope Francis began a visit to South Sudan on the final leg of his Africa tour on Friday, a day after 27 people were killed in the latest bout of violence, in Kajo-Keji County.
The head of the Roman Catholic Church will join leaders of the Church of England and the Church of Scotland in issuing a joint call for peace in the Christian-majority country that gained independence from predominantly Muslim Sudan in 2011.
Continued violence, including fighting in the south that killed 27 people on Thursday, has displaced about two million people and hampered the implementation of a 2018 peace deal to end a civil war that broke out in 2013.
The latest deaths occurred during clashes between cattle herders and a local militia in Kajo-Keji County, Central Equatoria state, a local country commissioner told Reuters.
People are hoping that the first papal visit to the country will provide the impetus for ending the violence.
“The Pope will bring us peace,” Monica Lado, a 40-year-old from Juba, told the Associated Press ahead of the three Christian leaders' arrival.
One of a group of 80 Catholics walked 300km in nine days from the central city of Rumbek to Juba to see the pontiff.
“As the Pope is coming, I believe what was killing us will stop,” said Victoria Yar, 58, after the long journey.
"Our country is being destroyed by the conflict and we hope that the pPope is coming with peace, and no one will be killed again," said Mary Yom, another member of the group. The mother of eight said she lost two children to the violence.
The Pope's South Sudan trip was first announced in 2017 but security concerns caused plans to continually slide. In 2019, the pontiff famously got down on his hands and knees and kissed the feet of South Sudan’s rival leaders, begging them to make peace during a joint prayer in the Vatican.
Pope Francis, 86, travelled to South Sudan from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he heard harrowing stories of violence from victims of that country's conflict, including the killings of relatives, sexual slavery, amputation and forced cannibalism.
The Pope condemned the atrocities as war crimes and appealed to all parties, internal and external, who orchestrate war in the DRC to plunder the country's vast mineral resources to stop getting rich with "money stained with blood".