Pope Francis (C), seated on a wheelchair, arrives at the Juba International Airport in Juba, South Sudan, on February 3, 2023. AFP
The pope, who was using his wheelchair, was greeted Friday at the international airport in Juba by South Sudan's president, Salva Kiir, as a crowd of thousands nearby undulated and sang in 96-degree Fahrenheit (35.5-degree Celsius) heat.
``The long, long expected moment has come,'' Archbishop Stephen Ameyu told the country's state broadcaster minutes before the arrival.
Francis had one final appointment Friday in Kinshasa with Congo's bishops before flying to the South Sudanese capital, Juba. There, he joins the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Rt. Rev. Iain Greenshields, in a novel ecumenical push for peace.
Peace has also eluded South Sudan, with a five-year civil war leaving 380,000 people dead, four million displaced, and the young country deeply impoverished.
Crowds began lining the streets of Juba hours before the pope's arrival, waving the national flag and holding aloft banners welcoming Francis to South Sudan.
Some people wore traditional clothing or the garb of religious orders, while others ululated, blew horns and whistles, and sang hymns.
The "pilgrimage of peace" is the first-ever papal visit to South Sudan since the predominantly Christian nation gained independence from Muslim-majority Sudan in 2011 after decades of conflict.
The 86-year-old pontiff is expected to meet victims of conflict, as well as the country's political and church leaders, between prayers and an outdoor mass that is expected to draw large crowds.
The visit -- Francis's fifth to Africa -- was initially scheduled for 2022 but had to be postponed because of problems with the pope's knee.
The affliction has made him dependent on a wheelchair and has seen the itinerary pared back in both countries.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis will be joined in South Sudan by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, underlining the broad appeal of Christianity in the devout country of 12 million people.
"I am very excited to see him," Hanah Zachariah, 20, told AFP, one of the dozens of pilgrims who walked nine days from the town of Rumbek to Juba, a journey of around 400 kilometers (250 miles), in a bid to see the pope.
Francis promised in 2019 to travel to South Sudan when he hosted the country's two warring leaders, President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar, at a Vatican retreat and asked them to respect a hard-fought ceasefire for their people.