By Philip Pullella
VATICANCITY – Pope Francis will visit South Sudan in July, the Vatican said on Thursday, making a trip he has repeatedly had to delay because of security concerns in a country still emerging from a post-independence civil war.
July will mark the 11th anniversary of South Sudan’s secession from Sudan. Civil war erupted two years later in 2013, causing 400,000 deaths. The two main sides signed a peace deal in 2018 but hunger and deadly clashes are still common across the country.
The Vatican said Francis will be in South Sudan July 5-7 after visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo July 2-5 on the same trip.
Though the 2018 peace deal halted the worst violence of that war, analysts say there are several unresolved issues, such as stalled reunification of the national army, that could plunge the country back into widespread conflict.
The pope has wanted to visit predominantly Christian South Sudan for years but each time planning for a trip began it had to be postponed because of the unstable situation.
In 2019 Francis hosted South Sudan’s opposing leaders at a Vatican retreat where he knelt and kissed their feet as he urged them not to return to conflict.