Pope Francis’s proposed trip to South Sudan later this year has been postponed for security reasons.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke has confirmed that the trip, which would have been with Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby, will not now go ahead, at least this year.
Rome’s daily newspaper Il Messaggero reported on Monday that Pope Francis made the decision reluctantly “after the information coming to his desk left him with few alternatives”.
South Sudan, which gained its independence from Sudan in 2011 after years of civil war, is the world’s youngest country. It has been war-torn since a political struggle in 2013, with some 300,000 people believed to have died and 3 million displaced.
Senior clergy from the Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian Churches in South Sudan invited the Pope to visit their country when they met him in Rome last October. In February this year Pope Francis said the Church leaders asked him to “please, come to South Sudan, even for a day, but don’t come alone, come with Justin Welby”. Francis said then: “We are looking at whether it is possible, or if the situation down there is too dangerous … But we have to do it, because they – the three [Christian communities] – together desire peace, and they are working together for peace.”
Pope Francis had hoped his trip could have helped bring peace to the troubled country. One possibility which appears to have been rejected was for the visit to be only a few hours long, a stopover en route to another African country. Apparently there was also a suggestion that the Pope’s visit could be limited to the airport at Juba, but it was thought that this would give a bad impression.
The visit is still being considered, but “not for this year”, said Burke.
Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Columbia from September 6 to 11. There is also a possibility of a trip to India and Bangladesh later this year, but this has not yet been confirmed.