Pope Francis has arrived in South Sudan on his first trip to the world’s youngest country joined by the head of the Church of England and the Church of Scotland Moderator on a pilgrimage of peace. The pope arrived just a day after a regional official said 27 people were killed in communal violence.
Pope Francis was received by top South Sudanese officials before heading to the residence of President Salva Kiir.
The 86-year-old leader of nearly 1.4 billion Catholics will meet with South Sudan’s leaders on peace efforts and the humanitarian situation.
Francis was accompanied by the leader of the Church of England, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
The duo will be joined by Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Reverend Iain Greenshields, who arrived in Juba earlier in the day.
The Holy See is calling their unique trip a nondenominational “pilgrimage of peace” in South Sudan, a country still suffering from years of civil war.
The three church leaders arrived just a day after a regional official said 27 people were killed in communal conflict in fueled by cattle theft.
The killings took place in one of the counties in Central Equatoria, the administrative state of the capital, Juba.
In a tweet, Welby said he was “horrified” at the deaths, calling it a “story too often heard across South Sudan.”
The pope arrived from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he spent several days this week, calling for forgiveness among warring parties, and holding a massive rally with Congolese youth.
The pope’s visit to the two countries is part of the Vatican’s efforts to help build lasting peace in the war-torn nations.
Peace has been elusive to South Sudan since it gained independence from Sudan in 2011.
South Sudanese have been waiting for the pope’s visit since last year.
Francis was supposed to visit in July 2022 but had to push back the trip following a knee problem that has largely confined him to a wheelchair.