A country racked by war and famine is counting on a visit from Pope Francis

South Sudan has a special place in the Pope’s heart. In February he designated a day of prayer for the world’s youngest state, which, because of war and famine, is in a near constant state of humanitarian crisis.

A month later he met a delegation of Christian leaders from the country, who urged him to visit. The Pope said he was “ready to come”. But a year after a planned trip with Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was postponed, there is still no word on when it might go ahead.

Most media assumed that the trip was just too dangerous. But the Archbishop said the visit was postponed to ensure it would have the maximum impact in helping to establish peace. He told the Tablet: “You’re playing a heavyweight card and you have got to get the timing right … You don’t waste a card like that on anything that is not going to work.”

Though there are conflicting reports about South Sudan’s exact religious composition, Christianity is the dominant religion, with a 2012 Pew Research Center report estimating that around 60 per cent are Christian, 33 per cent followers of African traditional religions, 6 per cent Muslim and the rest unaffiliated.

South Sudan’s churches are seen as pivotal in helping the country reach a point where a visit might be effective. Throughout 50 years of struggles, they have remained one of the country’s few stable institutions. In the face of shared adversity, they have embraced ecumenism, setting up the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC).

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