Pope Francis greets South Sudanese president Salva Kiir at the Vatican, April 11, 2019. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Mar 3, 2022 / 04:26 am (CNA).

Pope Francis will visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan in July, the Vatican announced on Thursday.

“At the invitation of their respective Heads of State and Bishops, His Holiness Pope Francis will make an Apostolic Journey to the Democratic Republic of Congo from 2 to 5 July 2022, visiting the cities of Kinshasa and Goma and to South Sudan from 5 to 7 July, visiting Juba,” the Holy See press office said on March 3.

“The program and further details of the Journey will be announced in due course.”

The news follows the Vatican’s announcement last month that the pope will travel to Malta on April 2-3.

Pope Francis will become the first pope to visit South Sudan, which became the world’s newest country when it declared independence from the Republic of the Sudan on July 9, 2011. The nation in east-central Africa has a population of 11 million people, around 37% of whom are Catholic.

In 2019, Pope Francis brought South Sudanese leaders together at the Vatican for a “spiritual retreat” aimed at resolving their differences.

The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is expected to join the pope in the capital Juba, along with the moderator of the Church of Scotland, Jim Wallace.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a Central African country of around 90 million people, roughly half of whom are Catholic. Pope John Paul II visited the country, then known as Zaire, in 1980.

Pope Francis was forced to cancel two recent public engagements due to knee pain: a daylong trip to the Italian city of Florence and an Ash Wednesday Mass at Rome’s Basilica of Santa Sabina. The 85-year-old spent 10 days in hospital in July 2021 after undergoing colon surgery.

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