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.

The Holy See press office said on March 3 that the pope would visit the African nations on July 2-7, “at the invitation of their respective heads of state and bishops.”

He will spend July 2-5 in the Congolese cities of Kinshasa and Goma, and July 5-7 in the South Sudanese capital Juba.

“The program and further details of the journey will be announced in due course,” the press office said.

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 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 said in an interview last October that he wanted to visit the Congo in 2022.

In 2019, he celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for Congolese immigrants, marking the 25th anniversary of the foundation of the Congolese Catholic Chaplaincy of Rome.

In the preface to a book published in 2020, he said: “The experience of the Congolese rite of the celebration of Mass can serve as an example and model for other cultures.”

The Zaire Use is an inculturated Mass formally approved in 1988 for the dioceses of what was then known as the Republic of Zaire. It is the only inculturated Eucharistic celebration approved after the Second Vatican Council.

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.

He has made two previous trips to sub-Saharan Africa. His first, on Nov. 25-30, 2015, took him to Kenya, Uganda, and the Central African Republic.

In his second, he visited Mozambique, Madagascar, and Mauritius on Sept. 4-10, 2019.