Pope Francis has announced that he will be embarking on an Apostolic Visit to war-torn South Sudan next year. His first visit to the African nation was scheduled for 2017 but was put off due to political instability and security reasons.
Speaking at his weekly Audience in the Vatican, the Pope urged the leaders of South Sudan to overcome their divisions and to find consensus for the good of the country.
Referring to the civil war in the world’s youngest country, Pope Francis recently said, “the people of South Sudan had suffered too much in recent years… and are waiting for the definitive end of conflicts and lasting peace”.
Last April, a month before the original May deadline, the pope invited President 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 before the warring leaders and urged them to end the ongoing civil war.
The pope exhorted the faithful to pray for the African nation, four days after its President Salva Kiir agreed to delay forming a unity government for 100 days against the Nov. 12 deadline.
President Salva Kiir and former rebel leader Riek Machar signed a peace deal in September 2018. Although the cease-fire has largely held, the peace deal is still on shaky ground, according to the BBC’s Africa editor Will Ross.
There are fears that the breakdown of the deal could lead to the return of large-scale violence in the predominantly Christian country.
The civil war in South Sudan has claimed 400,000 lives and left 4 million displaced so far.