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Pope Francis takes peace mission to South Sudan after DRC

Pope Francis has arrived on a three-day visit to South Sudan to promote peace and reconciliation in the world’s youngest country, traumatised by civil war and scarred by poverty.

It follows a four-day visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a brutal conflict in the mineral-rich east was high on the pope’s agenda.

Peace has also eluded South Sudan, with a five-year civil war leaving 380,000 people dead, four million displaced, and the young country deeply impoverished.

Crowds began lining the streets of Juba hours before the pope’s arrival, waving the national flag and holding aloft banners welcoming Francis to South Sudan.

Some people wore traditional clothing or the garb of religious orders, while others ululated, blew horns and whistles, and sang hymns.

The 86-year-old pontiff is expected to meet victims of conflict, as well as the country’s political and church leaders, between prayers and an outdoor mass that is expected to draw large crowds.

The visit – Francis’s fifth to Africa – was initially scheduled for 2022 but had to be postponed because of problems with the pope’s knee.

The affliction has made him dependent on a wheelchair and has seen the itinerary pared back in both countries.

‘We want to achieve peace’

Pope Francis will be joined in South Sudan by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, underlining the broad appeal of Christianity in the devout country of 12 million people.

“I am very excited to see him,” Hanah Zachariah, 20, told AFP, one of dozens of pilgrims who walked nine days from the town of Rumbek to Juba, a journey of around 400 kilometres (250 miles), in a bid to see the pope.

Francis promised in 2019 to travel to South Sudan when he hosted the country’s two warring leaders, Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar, at a Vatican retreat and asked them to respect a hard-fought ceasefire for their people.

READ MORE: ‘Stop choking Africa’: Pope blasts foreign plundering of DRC

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