- FRANCES D’EMILIO
Pope Francis, whose mobility has been limited lately by a nagging knee problem, is looking forward to visiting South Sudan in July, according to a joint message from the pontiff, the Archbishop of Canterbury and an official of the Scottish Church.
The Vatican released the text of the message on Saturday, which refers to plans previously announced by Francis to make a July 5-7 pilgrimage to South Sudan. The Holy See announced two months ago that the pontiff would make the last African pilgrimage of his nine-year papacy, beginning with a pastoral visit to Congo on July 2.
Pope Francis arrives in a wheelchair to attend an audience with nuns and religious superiors in the Vatican’s Paul VI hall, Thursday, May 5. PHOTO: AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino/File Photo.
The message was addressed to South Sudanese political leaders and signed by Francis, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Church of Scotland moderator Jim Wallace. The three church leaders will travel together to South Sudan.
The message referred to last month’s Easter celebrations, which for Christians marks their belief that Jesus rose from the dead after the crucifixion. Jesus “shows us that a new path is possible: a path of forgiveness and freedom, which humbly allows us to see God in each other, even in our enemies,” writes the trio of clerics.
Last summer, Francis and Welby marked the 10th anniversary of South Sudan’s independence by urging rival political leaders there to make the personal sacrifices necessary to consolidate peace, and the message released on Saturday expands on that exhortation.
The path to forgiveness and freedom, according to the post Saturday, “leads to new life, both for us as individuals and for those we lead. It is our prayer that you will embrace this path again, in order to discern new avenues in the midst of challenges and struggles at this time.
“We also pray that your people will experience the hope of Easter through your leadership. In anticipation of our peace pilgrimage this summer, we look forward to visiting your great country,” the message concludes.
On Thursday, Francis, 85, was seen in public for the first time in a wheelchair. He apologized for the limitations that a painful knee ligament condition has caused to his activities lately. For months, Francis limped badly and often leaned on the arms of aides to navigate steps or to sit or rise from chairs after giving speeches.
The majority of the population of South Sudan is Christian. The churches helped rally international support when South Sudanese fought for independence from Sudan, which is predominantly Muslim.
Previously, the three church leaders urged that more work be done to ensure peace and reconciliation in the new East African nation. Francis strove to use his papacy to advance the cause of peace, especially in poorer countries.