Pope Francis is set travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan at the end of the month – a visit the pontiff had earlier been forced to postpone due to health issues.
Pope Francis will visit the DRC from January 31 to February 3 and then spend two days in South Sudan before returning to the Vatican. When the Holy See announced the trip, which was called off due to the pope’s knee ailments last summer, it said the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland would travel with the pope.
The pope will first travel to Kinshasa, where he will meet with the country’s authorities, victims of the conflict in the eastern part of the country and representatives of charitable organizations. Then he will fly to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, on February 3.
Kinshasa, a large and impoverished city of more than 10 million people, is getting a face lift ahead of the papal visit. The apostolic nuncio in the DRC, Ettore Balestrero, said a huge effort is being made to ensure security and public order while the pope is in the country. It is the first time a pope has traveled to the country in 37 years and Balestrero said that for many people Pope Francis’ arrival is “a dream come true.”
In an interview with Vatican News, the archbishop said the main purpose of the DRC visit is “to awaken faith in those who do not have it and to strengthen the joy of those who do.” He added that “throughout the country there is an anticipation of receiving a word of consolation and also of healing of the wounds that are still bleeding, especially in the east.”
On Tuesday Pope Francis sent condolences to victims of the bombing of a Pentecostal church in Kasindi in North Kivu province in eastern Congo. Islamic militants claimed responsibility for the attack that killed at least 14 people and injured more than 60. The pope originally planned to visit Goma in North Kivu but as violence continues to ravage parts of the province, that stop was scrapped.
Pope Francis has long desired to travel to predominantly Christian South Sudan but the unstable situation in the country had complicated plans for a visit. A peace deal was signed in the country in 2018, putting an end to a five-year civil war that killed 400,000 people but the nation is still reeling from hunger and violence.
Speaking at the end of Sunday Angelus prayers in Saint Peter’s Square in December, the pope made one more appeal for an end to the violence in South Sudan and asked for prayers for reconciliation.
Pope Francis expressed concern at the news of violent clashes in South Sudan. He prayed for peace and national reconciliation and an end to attacks. He also called for civilians to be respected.
In South Sudan, Pope Francis will meet with internally displaced persons and take part in an ecumenical prayer service at the John Garang Mausoleum in Juba, where he will also celebrate Mass on Sunday before returning to the Vatican.