JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — Hundreds of people braved a scorching sun Tuesday to welcome Pope Francis’ envoy to South Sudan’s capital, Juba, where many were disappointed last month when the pontiff canceled a trip to this East African country.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, was received by religious leaders, government officials, and hundreds of who sang and danced upon his arrival.
“It is a good chance for us,” said a nun, Sister Adriana. “We are to be blessed.”
Another nun, Sister Flexisita, said: “I’m so excited. I was able to greet him and kiss his ring because that is a blessing.”
Francis canceled a planned July trip to two African countries, South Sudan and Congo, on doctors’ orders because of his knee problems. Parolin said Tuesday the pope remains willing to visit South Sudan.
“It is a great joy for me to be with you and to be able to stay for a few days to celebrate and pray and to meet people on behalf of the Holy Father Pope Francis,” Parolin told reporters at the airport in Juba.
The pope had sought to promote peace in South Sudan and Congo — countries long wrestling with deadly violence — before he had to cancel his trip.
South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, remains vulnerable to civil unrest that first erupted in December 2013 amid a political dispute between President Salva Kiir and his deputy, Riek Machar.
Parolin later this week will visit a remote camp for internally displaced people. He also will meet with Kiir, Machar and U.N. officials in the country.
“South Sudan feels blessed right away from the time His Holiness Pope Francis made the decision to come and visit South Sudan,” said senior presidential adviser Kuol Manyang Juuk. “The whole government is happy to receive (Parolin) and the population of Juba and South Sudan and all the Catholic churches are happy for his visit.”