DR Congo: Pope Francis’ Visit to reignite Hope for Peace
The Holy Father will visit the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, from January 31 to February 3 and then fly to Juba, the capital of South Sudan
By Boris Esono Nwenfor & Sonita Ngunyi Nwohtazie
After cancelling a planned trip in July last year, Pope Francis is set to undertake four-day visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, where He is expected to meet with the President of DRC, Felix Tshisekedi, “work with other religions, towards reconciliation and the path to peace.”
Pope Francis had to call off the twin trip to DR Congo and Sudan in July last year because of a persistent knee ailment, which had left him having to use a wheelchair.
“The Holy Father is coming to Congo to bring sympathy to the Congolese, Catholic or otherwise; to help Congo find peace; to show the Holy Father’s closeness with the Congolese people; to help them to turn the page of history, and to reconcile. The Pope’s visit will bring the entire world’s attention to Congo,” Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Ettore Balestrero said in a communique.
For months now, there has been increasing violence and insecurity in its Eastern provinces, rich in mineral resources attracting foreign interest. Congolese authorities are blaming Rwanda and Uganda for sponsoring rebel movements in these areas, namely the terrorist movement on 23 March (M23), and for using them to steal the country’s minerals. Rwandan President Paul Kagame has always denied these accusations.
Due to the insecurity in Goma, Pope Francis’ planned visit has been cancelled. Instead, the displaced victims of conflict in the East are expected to be flown to Kinshasa. Archbishop Balestrero said that His Holiness sees DRC Congo as a “moral urgency for the region and the whole world”. In meeting with the victims of the Eastern conflict, Pope Francis will “make sure they are listened to”, and “help people to look forward… His Holiness is happy to work with other religions, towards reconciliation and the path to peace.”
Shortly after landing at the Kinshasa N’djili International Airport His Holiness will meet with the President of DRC, Felix Tshisekedi, according to the communique. The Papal programme will proceed with an event to meet leaders of civil society, followed by the diplomatic corps.
“It is many years since Pope John Paul II came to Congo. Travelling with 85 journalists in tow, the visit of Pope Francis will focus the world’s attention on the Democratic Republic of Congo and reinforce to the international press the DRC’s efforts to obtain peace in the East of the country.” added government spokesperson and Minister of Communications, Patrick Muyaya.
On 1 February the keystone event will be a large open-air Holy Mass open to the public at Kinshasa’s Ndolo airport, where 1 million people are expected to attend. It is expected that Pope Francis will tour the venue in the pope mobile. The Mass will be followed by a meeting with the victims of attacks in the East of Congo, and representatives of charity organisations.
On 2 February, His Holiness will celebrate an event dedicated to the young people of DRC at the Stade des Martyrs. Pope Francis will then travel to Kinshasa’s Cathedral of Notre Dame, and meet the country’s Catholic priests, nuns, deacons, and seminarians. A private meeting with Jesuits will follow. On the final day of His Holiness’s visit, 3 February, Pope Francis will meet with CENCO, the Episcopal Conference of DRC, where he will address the country’s bishops.
After DRC, the pope will fly to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, Aljazeera reported. The catholic pontiff has wanted to visit predominantly Christian South Sudan for years but each time planning for a trip began it had to be postponed because of the instability and his health.