Pope Francis to make a July pilgrimage to South Sudan to press on peace and reconciliation

ROME (AP) — Pope Francis, whose mobility has been limited of late by a nagging knee problem, is looking forward to visiting South Sudan in July, according to a joint message by the pontiff, the archbishop of Canterbury and a Scottish church official. 

The Vatican on Saturday released the text of the message, which refers to previously announced plans by Francis to make a July 5-7 pilgrimage to South Sudan. The Holy See two months ago announced that the pontiff would make the latest African pilgrimage of his nine-year-old papacy, beginning with a pastoral visit in Congo on July 2.

The message was addressed to South Sudanese political leaders and signed by Francis, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Jim Wallace, Moderator of the Church of Scotland. The three church officials will visit South Sudan together.

The message referred to last month’s celebrations of Easter, which for Christians marks their belief that Jesus rose from the dead after crucifixion. Jesus “shows us that a new way is possible: a way of forgiveness and freedom, which enables us humbly to see God in each other, even in our enemies,” the trio of churchmen wrote. 

Last summer, Francis and Welby marked the 10th anniversary of the independence of South Sudan by urging rival political leaders there to make the personal sacrifices necessary to consolidate peace, and the message released on Saturday elaborates on that exhortation.

The path of forgiveness and freedom, the message published on Saturday said, “leads to new life, both for us as individuals and for those we lead. It is our prayer that you will embrace afresh this way, in order to discern new avenues amid the challenges and struggles at this time.”

“We pray too that your people will experience the hope of Easter through your leadership. In anticipation of our Pilgrimage of Peace this coming summer, we look forward to visiting your great country,” the message concluded.

On Thursday, Francis, 85, was seen for the first time in public using a wheelchair. He has apologized for the limits a painful knee ligament ailment has caused on his activities of late. For months, Francis has been limping badly and often leans on the arms of aides to navigate steps or to sit down or rise from chairs after delivering speeches.

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.

Previously, the three church leaders have pressed for more work to be done to ensure peace and reconciliation in the new East African nation. Francis has strived to use his papacy to further the cause of peace, particularly in poorer nations.

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