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Fear of ethnic conflicts cited as a reason for the cancellation of the proposed trip.

Greg Burke, the Vatican spokesperson, has confirmed Pope Francis has canceled his proposed visit to South Sudan this year. The 2017 trip was called off citing logistical and security barriers. South Sudan is one of the most fragile countries in the world. If the visit was on, the pontiff would have traveled with Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The spokesperson said the trip is still going to happen, except at a later date.

The senior clergy of South Sudan, including Presbyterian, Catholic and Anglican churches asked Pope Francis to visit their country when they met with the pontiff in Rome in 2016. According to Pope Francis, the church leaders requested him in February to visit the country, even for one day, and to come with Justin Welby. The pope at that time said, “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.”

The pope's wishes, however, has been smashed by the ethnic tensions and continuing conflict in the youngest country in the world. South Sudan became an independent country only in 2011 after breaking away from Sudan to the north. Just two years after the independence referendum, the country dipped into civil war. There is an ethnic dimension to the violence, pitting the Dinka ethnic group against the Nuer ethnic group. President Salva Kiir is a Dinka and heads the government. According to the United Nations, both sides have indulged in horrific abuses, like forced cannibalism and burning civilians alive.

One of the many reasons for the pope canceling his visit is that the Vatican advance team to South Sudan could not extract any assurances that both the Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups would be able to attend mass reconciliation conducted by Pope Francis.

The warring factions subsequently signed a peace accord in 2015. This has not helped, with the conflict continuing in many places. The constant state of war has taken thousands of lives. More than three million Sudanese have become internal refugees. Famine is rampant in some parts of the country. It is estimated that 100,000 individuals are now near starvation.

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