Pope Francis still intends to visit South Sudan if his health improve, a top Vatican official who is touring the country in his place has said.
Last month, the pontiff had to postpone his trip to South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo on the advice of his medical team because of knee pains.
He sent Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, to the neighbouring countries instead.
“It’s a great joy for me to be with you and to be able to stay for days and pray with you on behalf of Pope Francis,” the cleric told bishops and government representatives on his arrival at Juba International Airport on Tuesday morning.
“The Holy Father is following development[s] taking place [in South Sudan] and he would like to assure all of you - the population, the Church and the authorities - of his prayers and his spiritual support,” he said.
As part of his four-day visit, Cardinal Parolin will travel to Bentiu town on Wednesday. The capital of oil-producing Unity state, in the north of the country, has recently experienced flash floods that have forced thousands of people from their homes and destroyed their livelihoods.
The senior cleric will also celebrate a mass on Thursday and lay a foundation stone for the new Vatican Embassy in South Sudan.
The majority of the population in the world’s newest nation are Christian.
It is nine years since the country broke away from Sudan - but many of those years have been dominated by a brutal civil conflict.
Catholic and Anglican church leaders have played a role in urging peace and a deal was signed in 2018, though disagreements continue.
The next year Pope Francis was filmed kissing the feet of rival South Sudanese leaders during a two-day spiritual retreat at the Vatican organised by both churches.