2022 – Pope’s July visit to Africa to move forward despite health problems By Reuters

© Reuters. Pope Francis waves to members of the Roman Catholic Church Corcellus of the Christian Apostolic Movement at the Vatican, May 28, 2022. Vatican Media / Handout via REUTERS

By Philip Bolilla

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis will embark on an arduous journey to two African countries in July, despite knee problems that have forced him to use a cane and a wheelchair in recent weeks.

The Vatican on Saturday released a full itinerary for the July 2-7 trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan. There has been speculation that the Pope’s visit to Africa, as well as a visit to Lebanon scheduled for June, may be postponed.

The 85-year-old was treated for knee pain believed to be caused by a torn ligament.

The pace of the trip indicates that the Vatican expects the Pope to improve over the next month, although officials privately say he will likely use a wheelchair, at least part of the time. A visit includes thousands of miles of travel, five excursions, and no fewer than twelve speeches.

Francis spends four days in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, visiting the capital Kinshasa and Goma in the volatile eastern region.

The Italian ambassador, his bodyguard and his driver were killed in an ambush north of Goma last year.

The government declared a state of siege and placed some provinces under martial law to suppress armed groups that launched attacks in the area. This includes the Islamic State’s ADF.

The program includes a meeting with victims of violence in the east of the country.

The stop in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, from July 5-7, is a visit that has been repeatedly postponed due to security concerns.

Southern Sudan is predominantly Christian and Francis forms the leg of Southern Sudan along with the Archbishop of Canterbury and Director of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. This will be the first joint visit of its kind for leaders from the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Reformed traditions.

July marks the eleventh anniversary of the secession of South Sudan from Sudan. Civil war broke out two years later in 2013 and claimed 400,000 lives. The two major parties signed a peace agreement in 2018, but famine and bloody clashes still prevail today in the world’s newest country.

A 2018 peace deal in South Sudan halted the worst violence of that war, but analysts say there are many unresolved issues, such as reunification of the stalled national army, that could plunge the country back into full-scale conflict.

In 2019, Francis welcomed South Sudan’s opposition leaders, including President Salva Kiir and his rival, Vice President Riek Machar, to a retreat at the Vatican, where he knelt and kissed their feet as he urged them not to return to conflict.