The World Has Forgotten About the Conflict in South Sudan. Enter Pope Francis

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T here was much optimism on the streets of Juda when South Sudan became the world’s newest country in 2011. But the euphoria was short-lived, as the African country descended into civil war and famine. Now, Pope Francis is trying to raise global attention for South Sudan as he begins a three-day trip Friday to the country as part of a “pilgrimage of peace.”

The Pope’s trip, alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshield, is centered around raising awareness about a conflict that has left over 400,000 people dead .

The majority Christian South Sudan broke away from majority Muslim Sudan in 2011, but slipped into civil war two years later. The South Sudanese conflict began with an internal political dispute between President Salva Kiir and then-Vice President Riek Machar, which ballooned into a wider ethnic battle between the former’s Dinka community and the latter’s Nuer ethnic group.

The trip is not the first time Pope Francis has sought to urge peace. In 2019, during a meeting in the Vatican, Francis knelt and kissed the feet of Kiir and Machar. The Pope had been planning to visit South Sudan for years but was delayed by security concerns.

Below, what to know about the Pope’s trip to South Sudan, and his three-day trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo that preceded it.

Why is the Pope in South Sudan?

After a successful visit to the DRC, the pope arrived in Juda, South Sudan, to celebratory crowds. The nation, barely 12 years old, has never welcomed a Western leader on a public visit.

The “three wise men”—as some call Francis, Welby, and Greenshield—were greeted by tens of thousands of people singing and ululating to celebrate the occasion.

Approximately 6 million of South Sudan’s 11 million people are Catholic. In the colonial era, Christian missionaries in Sudan were divided by the Nile river, with Catholics and Anglicans made to preach on opposing sides, according to the New York Times .

Francis was reunited with Kiir, a former rebel who has led the nation since its 2011 independence, and his deputy-turned-rival Machar.

But deadly clashes between cattle herders and militia a day before Pope Francis’ arrival were a reminder of the ongoing conflict. 27 people reportedly died, including five children. Writing on Twitter , Welby called the killings “a story too often heard across South Sudan.”

The country also faces a number of other issues. There are currently over 2.2 million internally displaced people in South Sudan and 2.3 million people have fled the country, according to U.N. statistics. Last year, the country was also found to be the most corrupt in the world by Transparency International .

The country faces a number of investigative reports that show how oil revenue worth billions of dollars have disappeared and officials cannot account for the wealth, according to the New York Times.

While the Pope’s visit wont correct these rife issues, it has promoted global conversations by bringing these two nations back in the spotlight.

Why did the Pope visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo?

The Democratic Republic of Congo , like South Sudan, has also been grappling with conflict. More than 120 rebel groups have been locked in a conflict with the government for three decades.

The Catholic Church has been a counterweight to the state in DRC. In 2019, clerics who monitored the election that year said the result that saw current President Felix Tshisekedi take office was manipulated.

The country declared a public holiday in anticipation of the rare papal visit—a first in almost four decades. Huge crowds gathered in the capital, Kinshasa, to watch Pope Francis deliver an open-air mass. Around half of the nation’s citizens observe Catholicism, making it Africa’s largest Catholic community.

During his speech, Francis condemned the history of European colonialism and exploitation of Africa’s resources. Minerals play a key role in the ongoing fighting today.

The Vatican’s envoy to the DRC said the Pope’s trip aimed to remind the world not to ignore decades-long conflicts. He was met with applause when he said: “Hands off the Democratic Republic of the Congo! Hands off Africa! Stop choking Africa, it is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered.”

The nation has also been rife with over 100 armed groups fighting for territorial control or using it as a base to attack neighboring countries such as Angola, Rwanda, and Uganda, Al Jazeera reported .

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Pope Francis in DR Congo: A million celebrate Kinshasa Mass

  • Published 1 February 2023

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From February: BBC religion editor Aleem Maqbool witnesses the Pope's visit to Kinshasa

Pope Francis has celebrated one of his biggest Masses, with around a million attendees in Democratic Republic of Congo's capital, estimates say.

Huge crowds started to gather in Kinshasa well before dawn, including scores of schoolgirls dressed in white who danced along the Pope's route.

A public holiday was declared, so as many people as possible could attend.

Around half of DR Congo's population is Catholic - the largest Catholic community in Africa.

It is more than 37 years since a pope has visited the mineral-rich but conflict-ridden country.

Pope Francis was greeted by jubilant scenes at at N'dolo airport: "My joy is too huge that I think I am going to cry," Christella Bola told the Reuters news agency.

Crowds to see mass

A 700-person choir, that had been practising together long before the pontiff was originally due to visit last July, had been assembled specifically for the event. The Pope's original visit had to be postponed because of poor health.

There had been some murmurings that the Pope has not been as critical of DR Congo's political leadership as some had hoped, but the Mass was a joyful event, and the pontiff did have a strong message of peace for those engaging in conflict in the country.

Warring sides should forgive one another and grant their opponents a "great amnesty of the heart", he said.

He went on to espouse the benefits of cleansing one's heart of "anger and remorse, of every trace of resentment and hostility".

Mattieu Nzuzi, one of those in the crowd said he hoped the pontiff's visit would usher an end to the violence in the east of the country, near the border with Rwanda: "I hope that the visit here of the Pope to the Congo will bring peace to our country because over there, near Rwanda, the people are suffering," he said.

However, the second day of his visit coincides with a continuation of fighting between the Congolese army and rebels.

Pope in Kinshasa waving

Wednesday's Mass was tipped to be one of Pope Francis' largest-ever Masses, second only to one held in the Philippines in 2015, according to Christopher Lamb, the Rome correspondent of the Catholic magazine The Tablet.

In an interview with the BBC's Newsday radio programme, he said Catholicism was growing in Africa: "This is the future of the church and the growth of the Catholic Church in Africa really is so important to the future of Catholicism."

On Tuesday, the Pope met President Félix Tshisekedi and delivered a speech condemning historical exploitation of Africa's resources, which he described as "economic colonialism".

  • Africa Live: The latest updates from around the continent
  • Hands off Africa, Pope says on visit to DR Congo
  • Why Africa is the future for the Catholic Church

He also addressed DR Congo's plight, as minerals have played a key role in more than three decades of armed conflict there: "Hands off the Democratic Republic of the Congo! Hands off Africa! Stop choking Africa, it is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered."

However, a planned visit to the eastern city of Goma has been cancelled for security reasons. The eastern part of DR Congo is facing escalating violence as security services fight against armed militia groups.

According to the United Nations, some six million people have been forced to flee their homes in DR Congo.

That is one of the largest populations of displaced people in the world, alongside places like Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Ukraine.

Most of the displaced are in the eastern provinces of South Kivu, North Kivu and Ituri.

Crowd to see Pope's mass

Read more about the conflict in DR Congo:

  • Why Kenya's army is joining the DR Congo conflict
  • Hiding on top of a hill to escape the rebels
  • Key facts and figures about DR Congo
  • Is DR Congo too rich for its own good?

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Pope Francis in DRC and South Sudan: one of his most challenging visits ever

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Professor of Religion and Politics, Director of the Centre for the Study of Religion and Politics, University of St Andrews

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Pope Francis’ visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and its neighbouring state South Sudan comes at a defining moment for his papacy and for the Catholic church worldwide. He has led a period since December 2019 of global reflection known as “ the synodal path ” in which Catholics have been able to speak up about the agenda that the church should pursue. A similar exercise, the Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965, was very successful when it came to involving the whole Catholic church.

Pope Francis is perceived as a progressive pope. He has led the church in opening to the world, including LGBTI communities, though he has failed to convince women that they are really on the same path as men within the Catholic church because they are not part of the priestly ministry and very few women are involved in top leadership roles. His visit to Africa will highlight the intense participation of women within African social communities.

The Catholic church in Africa is thriving and growing – 20% of the world’s Catholics live in Africa . But the African church is more conservative in doctrine and faith than in Europe, thus Pope Francis will have a somewhat harder time advancing his progressive agenda.

Poverty, violence, injustice, corruption, celibacy, the role of women and dialogue with Islam are some of the general themes the pope will cover in his public addresses and meetings. He clearly supports the end of poverty and injustice but he is more conservative regarding the ordination of women and celibacy.

The DRC and Sudan represent the periphery of Africa, where violence and war have been the norm. It is a difficult and challenging visit, much more than his past visits to Kenya and Uganda.

The invitation to the DRC was made by the country’s government and the DRC’s Catholic Bishops Conference. Pope Francis will spend four days in the country and the visit will include a meeting with victims of violence from eastern DRC as well as with NGOs working in the country. He will also meet young people, consecrated religious leaders and clergy, as well as Jesuits working in the DRC.

The DRC, with its Belgian colonial past, represents one of the African countries with more Catholics – 50% of the total population of the country. In the 1960s Pope Paul VI led the African liturgical reform through the Zairian Rite, the Catholic rites with an African flavour, later suspended by Pope John Paul II.

It is also one of the countries where different rebel armies have committed horrific crimes , including mass rape. But the DRC has been home to great theologians and intellectuals as well as a Nobel Prize winner. Dr Denis Mukwege was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018, for his medical work with DRC women who had been raped. Pope Francis wants to support peace initiatives and the search for the common good.

  • South Sudan

In his visit to South Sudan, where 40% of the population are Catholic, Pope Francis will be joined by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland. The three will meet with South Sudanese authorities, internally displaced persons and Jesuits. They will also take part in an ecumenical service attended by Christian leaders from different Christian traditions.

The visit to South Sudan provides a continuity and a close relationship between political leaders who have been Christians since the foundation of South Sudan in 2009. Pope Francis has regularly received them at the Vatican and has preached at retreats for them. But this young country has also experienced ethnic violence. Pope Francis wants to provide public support to those leaders who strive for peace.

A difficult task

The pope will have a joyful welcome in both countries but a difficult task. That task is to affirm his belief in peace and understanding and to challenge negative values such as corruption, ethnic violence and violence against women.

It would be important for him to open new avenues for initiatives that would make the Catholic church more African and to foster dialogue with African indigenous religions so as not to make the visit a triumphalist one but an opening to a church closer to African customs and supporting African values – against violence, genocide and ethnic conflict.

Read more: Pope Francis' visit to Africa comes at a defining moment for the Catholic church

This will be one of the most challenging visits abroad by Pope Francis, and a difficult one to Africa because of the violence in the DRC and Sudan. He was in Kenya, Uganda, and the Central African Republic in 2015 with 39 hours of stay in Bangui where he dialogued with Muslim clerics and opened a door to reconciliation with Islam that marked his own papacy. Such initiatives led to later initiatives in Egypt and Iraq. This visit offers new challenges to the Catholic church in Africa and the possibility of a more stable peace in the DRC and Sudan.

Aguilar is the author of the book Pope Francis: Journeys of a Peacemaker

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Pope Francis to spotlight conflicts ‘world has tired of’ on trip to DR Congo, South Sudan

Pope Francis arrived in Kinshasa on Tuesday for a six-day visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan, two fragile African nations where protracted conflicts have displaced millions of civilians, sowing death, hunger and despair.

Issued on: 31/01/2023 - 08:20

The trip – his fifth to Africa – takes the 86-year-old pope to countries blighted by conflict and poverty, where Catholics make up about half of the population and where the Church has long been a key player in democracy-building efforts.

First scheduled to take place last July, the visit was postponed because Francis was suffering a flare-up of a chronic knee ailment. He still uses a wheelchair and cane but his knee has improved significantly, allowing the wandering pontiff to set off on the 40th overseas trip of his papacy.

As Francis touched down in Kinshasa, he became the first pope to visit the DRC since John Paul II travelled there in 1985 – when it was still known as Zaire. His trip to South Sudan on Friday will make him the first pontiff to visit the world’s newest country, which is still mired in violence a decade after the euphoria of independence gave way to a gruesome civil war.

Francis, who has frequently lamented humanity’s “growing inability to weep” in the face of suffering and injustice, will seek to bring comfort and recognition to the victims of violent conflict. On both stops, his priority will be efforts to foster peace in two countries that are rich in natural resources but beset with poverty and strife, where a perceived lack of interest by the international community is stoking anger and resentment.

“The reason Francis is going to the DRC is to draw attention to a conflict many people have grown tired of,” said Douglas Yates, an Africa specialist at the American Graduate School in Paris (AGS), referring to the fighting that has ravaged the country’s east for the past three decades. He added: “In the case of South Sudan, it’s a conflict that most people simply don’t understand.”

The plight of eastern DRC

In the run-up to the pope’s visit, Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo, the archbishop of Kinshasa, expressed dismay at the world’s perceived indifference to the unrest in eastern DRC.

“We cannot understand what is happening in the east of our country, why the international community, the United Nations, claim they are powerless to deal with a small group of armed militias,” the cardinal told FRANCE 24’s sister radio RFI. “When you look at the situation in Ukraine, where vast means are deployed to restore order, whereas in the DRC, the international community says it is impotent, it’s outrageous,” he added, voicing his belief that “the pope’s mere presence here will put the situation in the DRC at the heart of the world’s preoccupations.”

To many in the Democratic Republic of Congo, “home to Africa’s largest Catholic population, the pope’s visit is seen as an acknowledgment of the country’s importance within the wider Catholic community”, said political analyst Dieudonné Wamu Oyatambwe, speaking from central DRC. “But above all, the people hope this visit will draw the world’s attention to the suffering and expectations of the Congolese,” he added.

Francis had originally planned to visit the city of Goma, in the country’s volatile east, but that stop was scrapped following the resurgence of fighting between the army and the M23 rebel group in the area where Italy's ambassador, his bodyguard and driver were killed in an ambush in 2021.

Fighting in eastern DRC, which is roamed by scores of armed groups, has simmered for years but spiked in late 2021 with the resurgence of the M23, which had been largely dormant for nearly a decade. The rebels have captured swaths of land and are accused by the United Nations and rights groups of committing atrocities against civilians.

Eastern DRC is also increasingly grappling with violence linked to Islamic militants. Earlier this month, the Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for killing at least 14 people and injuring dozens from a bomb that detonated inside a church while people were praying.

As a result, Francis will stay in the capital, Kinshasa, although he insisted on meeting there with victims of violence from the east.

“The pope will be sending a message of compassion and resilience to the victims,” said Oyatambwe. “Of course the message would have been more powerful if delivered from Goma. But given the security context, it is perfectly understandable that he should stay in Kinshasa.”

His audience in the DRC will be listening carefully for signs of condemnation of the “foreign powers and neighbouring countries that are fuelling the fighting in the east, hoping to lay their hands on the country’s natural resources”, Oyatambwe added, pointing to a leaked UN report last month that cited “substantial evidence” of Rwandan government support for the M23.

Bolstering democracy – and the Church

Francis will also be under pressure to take a stand on the DRC’s domestic politics – in line with the Church’s long history of challenging strongmen and upholding constitutional rule in the country.

A forthcoming presidential election in December, when Felix Tshisekedi will stand for a second term after his disputed election in 2018, is likely to loom large over the pope’s four-day visit, amid calls for Francis to urge clean and fair polls.

In the DRC, a vast country the size of western Europe, the Church has acted as a counterweight to government since the days of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Church leaders played a key role in the transition to a multi-party political system in the 1990s. Two decades later, they threw their weight behind protesters when former president Josep Kabila moved to extend his term in 2016 by delaying scheduled elections.

Relations with the current Congolese presidency have been tense, with the Church among the groups that raised doubts about the validity of the 2018 vote won by Tshisekedi.

“The Catholic Church carries considerable weight in the DRC and it does not shy away from taking a stand,” said Oyatambwe. “It also plays a key social role, providing health care and education, particularly in remote areas where the state is largely absent.”

Preserving and bolstering that role will be another objective of the pope’s visit, at a time when his reformist agenda has irked some Catholic leaders in Africa – and when Catholic hegemony in the DRC is challenged by the spread of evangelical churches , also known as revivalist churches, which appeal particularly to the poor.

While official Vatican statistics put the proportion of Catholics in the DRC at 49 percent of the population, other estimates put the number at about 40 percent, with Protestants of various denominations making up another 35 percent and Kimbanguists – a Christian movement born in colonial-era Belgian Congo – accounting for 10 percent.

“Contrary to popular belief, the DRC’s Catholic population is not growing – nor is it elsewhere in Africa,” said Odon Vallet, a historian of religion with extensive knowledge of the African continent.

“More and more Africans are turning to other churches, particularly those founded by Africans, even though they’re baptised as Catholics,” Vallet added. “It’s a major problem that Francis is well aware of, because much the same thing is happening in Latin America.”

Building bridges in South Sudan

As a “bastion of Catholicism on the continent, the DRC is well worth the investment for the pope,” said Yates at the American University in Paris, noting the growing rivalry with “evangelical Protestantism spreading across the developing world”.

However, Yates added, to focus on this rivalry would be to miss a key purpose of the pontiff’s African visit: namely to foster interfaith dialogue as a means to heal the continent’s festering divides.

“In particular, the voyage to South Sudan shows that Pope Francis really wants to do ecumenical peace building in Africa – building community cohesion as a recipe against conflict,” Yates explained.

The pope’s journey will take on an unprecedented nature on Friday when he leaves Kinshasa for South Sudan’s capital, Juba. That leg is being made with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields.

The three Churches represent the Christian make-up of the world's youngest country, which gained independence in 2011 from predominantly Muslim Sudan after decades of conflict and has a population of around 11 million – almost half of which has been displaced by civil war.

“Together, as brothers, we will live an ecumenical journey of peace,” Francis told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square for his Sunday address, two days before starting his trip to Africa. Meanwhile, Welby spoke of a “historic visit”, with the “leaders of three different parts of (Christianity) coming together in an unprecedented way”.

Church leaders played a crucial role in brokering a fragile peace deal in South Sudan in 2018, after more than 400,000 were killed in a civil war pitting forces loyal to President Salva Kiir against troops led by Vice President Riek Machar, who is from a different ethnic group. The peace deal stopped the worst of the fighting, but parts of the agreement – including the deployment of a re-unified national army – have not yet been implemented.

The conflict has displaced 2.2 million people within the country and forced another 2.3 million to flee as refugees, according to the United Nations, which has praised the Catholic Church as a “powerful and active force in building peace and reconciliation in conflict-torn regions”.

In one of the most remarked gestures of his papacy, Francis knelt to kiss the feet of South Sudan's previously warring leaders Kiir and Machar during a meeting at the Vatican in April 2019, urging them not to return to war. The meeting was attended by the same Protestant leaders who will accompany him this week.

“Francis has tried peace-making, when he famously kissed the feuding leaders’ feet – and it was mostly successful,” said Yates. “What he’s doing now is peace-building: trying to build an ecumenical bridge between Catholics and Protestants, in this case Anglicans, who have been a very important Protestant denomination in South Sudan since British colonialism.”

While adapting his message to the countries’ specificities, the pope will follow a common thread from Kinshasa to Juba, said Oyatambwe, for whom the journey will no doubt shape the ageing pontiff’s African legacy.

“From the DRC to South Sudan, the pope will carry a message for all those who stoke instability, who court conflict instead of peaceful cohabitation,” he explained.

At 86 and with his health said to be fast declining, Francis could well be making his last visit to the African continent this week. According to Vallet, the globe-trotting pontiff known for his candid in-flight press conferences could yet spring a surprise on the return leg.

He added: “We don’t know whether something significant will happen, but we do know this much: the most important things Francis wishes to say, he’ll keep them for the flight back home.”

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Pope Francis to visit DRC and South Sudan in February 2023

Pope Francis I has rescheduled his long-delayed trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan for 31 January to 5 February 2023 – cutting out a stop over in the troubled eastern DRC, but fulfilling a long-held wish to accompany other Christian leaders to South Sudan.

Issued on: 02/12/2022 - 10:15

On Thursday, the Vatican published the itinerary of the trip, which had originally been scheduled for last July but was postponed because Pope Francis was undergoing therapy for strained knee ligaments.

The 85-year-old pontiff is still using a wheelchair but has made other foreign trips in the meantime, suggesting that he is fit for challenging itineraries. 

The new schedule roughly matches the original, with one significant exception: initially the pope had planned to celebrate mass in the eastern Congolese city of Goma en route to South Sudan .

Now, Francis will meet a delegation of faithful and “victims” from Goma in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa.

The Holy See Press Office announces that #PopeFrancis will travel to the Democratic Republic of the #Congo and #SouthSudan for an ecumenical peace pilgrimage from 31 January to 5 February 2023, journeys postponed in the past due to health reasons. https://t.co/xr93KYxr9v — Vatican News (@VaticanNews) December 1, 2022
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Latest ceasefire broken in eastern DRC

Tens of thousands of Congolese have been displaced – with many heading toward Goma – amid renewed clashes between government soldiers and M23 rebels .

A ceasefire to end the latest round of fighting was supposed to go into effect last Friday, but hasn't held.

After the papal visit to the DRC , Francis will be joined by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland , the Right Reverend Iain Greenshields, for a first-of-its-kind trip by the leaders of the three Christian churches to Juba , South Sudan, from 3-5 February.

There, the three will celebrate an ecumenical prayer service together, and meet with displaced South Sudanese people.

The Moderator, @Pontifex @JustinWelby are embarking on historic ecumenical peace pilgrimage to South Sudan in February. #SouthSudan https://t.co/PGqXNr4uyW — Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields (@churchmoderator) December 1, 2022

Long-awaited visit

The visit seeks to boost a 2018 agreement aimed at ending civil war in South Sudan and has been in the works for years.

However, it has been repeatedly postponed because of the security situation on the ground, and then in July because of Francis' health.

Welby and Greenshields both welcomed word that the trip would finally go ahead.

“I am genuinely humbled at the opportunity to support our brothers and sisters in South Sudan in the search for peace, reconciliation and justice,” Greenshields said in a statement, which noted that the Church of Scotland had been invited to “represent the Presbyterian family due to its strong partnership with the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan ”.

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Welby, for his part, added that all three leaders shared a desire to “stand in solidarity” with the people of South Sudan.

In one of his more memorable gestures, Pope Francis invited South Sudan’s rival leaders to the Vatican in 2019 for a prayer and knelt down and kissed their feet while begging them to make peace.

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Pope Francis Arrives in DRC with Message of Peace, Reconciliation

  • By Mohammed Yusuf

Pope Francis is welcomed by residents of Kinshasa, on his apostolic journey, in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Jan. 31, 2023.

Pope Francis arrives in the Democratic Republic of Congo Tuesday on his first visit to the country with Africa’s largest Catholic population. Francis will be in the DRC, a country struggling with decades of conflict, until Friday, when he goes to the world’s youngest country, South Sudan. Analysts hope for peace in the region.

Pope Francis arrived Tuesday in the DRC capital, Kinshasa, to begin a six-day visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

The pope brings bring a message of peace and reconciliation to the two countries, which have struggled through years of conflict.

A pastor invited to meet with the pope, who asked to be identified only as Herale, told VOA that he hopes the Pope's message will help end the fighting in the country's east.

He said the Pope is well known both religiously and politically. Congo has numerous problems, squabbles, and conflicts. The pope only needs to say a few words to put an end to the conflict in the east, the pastor says. Francis has the ability to assist the country and bring peace.

Pope Francis and Democratic Republic of Congo's President Felix Tshisekedi sit on the stage during a meeting in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Jan. 31, 2023.

The pope meets with Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi, government officials, diplomats, civil society leaders, and victims of conflict from the east.

On Wednesday, the 86-year-old will also hold a public prayer in Kinshasa.

Pope Francis had planned to visit Goma in North Kivu province, but he canceled his visit because of the resurgence of conflict between the M23 rebel group and Congolese forces.

A billboard of Pope Francis is displayed a day ahead of his arrival in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo Jan. 30, 2023.

5 Things to Know About DR Congo

Researcher and political analyst Ntanyoma Rukumbuzi said the pope will remind the world of the ongoing conflict in the DRC.

“Because of security problems affecting civilians in this region, his message was to support and call for attention to atrocities taking place in this region. During his visit, the situation has drastically deteriorated. One can expect his message as it was before would possibly change. He is going to change his tone to emphasize that civilians should be protected,” said Rukumbuzi.

In addition to the chronic unrest in several eastern provinces, the DRC is preparing for an election later this year and the prospect of political violence remains a concern.

Rukumbuzi said the pope will speak out about the political situation and upcoming elections.

“The Pope will talk about the country’s leadership and what to expect from its leaders, and as it has been mostly the stance of the Roman Catholic in DRC it plays a huge role within the political arena, domestic political arena, but they are also among the vocal critic when it comes to the way the Congolese elite manage the country. The Pope will be very clear on this issue,” said Rukumbuzi.

Well-wishers wave at Pope Francis in Kinshasa, Congo, Jan. 31, 2023.

The country's Catholic leadership criticized then-president Joseph Kabila when he postponed elections for more than two years starting in 2016.

The election was finally held in December 2018 and won by the current president, Tshisekedi, in a disputed vote. Tshisekedi’s term ends this year and polls are expected in December.

Pastor Herale said politicians must prioritize the interests of the country.

"Congo is preparing for elections, and politicians are competing for political positions, but security is poor. He's coming to Congo, which is in a lot of trouble, and we hope he'll be able to convince politicians to speak one language and agree to protect the country," he said.

Pope Francis is scheduled to be in Congo until Friday, when he heads to South Sudan.

Pope Francis to Visit Two Fragile African Nations: DR Congo and South Sudan 

Pope Francis to Visit Two Fragile African Nations: DR Congo and South Sudan 

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Pope Francis celebrates Mass with million faithful in Democratic Republic of Congo

Headshot of Emmanuel Akinwotu

Emmanuel Akinwotu

pope francis visit drc

A million people celebrated a papal mass in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital on the second day of Pope Francis' visit to the conflict-torn country. Alexis Huguet/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

A million people celebrated a papal mass in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital on the second day of Pope Francis' visit to the conflict-torn country.

LAGOS, Nigeria — An estimated million people attended an open mass by Pope Francis in Kinshasa on the second day of a landmark trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A sea of people sang "viva papa," as Pope Francis arrived in his pope mobile, to an open Mass he held at the main airport in the capital Kinshasa.

The landmark trip is the first visit by a pope since 1985 and has ignited festival-like celebrations in a country with the largest Catholic population in Africa . About half of DRC's 95 million people.

In his homily this morning, Pope Francis said Christians are called to break the cycle of violence and be missionaries of the love God has for each human person. https://t.co/ohJtO1VoxD pic.twitter.com/gyCD3DYWtm — Vatican News (@VaticanNews) February 1, 2023

But the visit also struck a somber note. The pope is keen to highlight the impact of decades of conflict by armed groups, and a bloody offensive by the M23 rebel group in the east of the country.

On his first day in the country Tuesday, he made a striking speech condemning what he called "economic colonialism."

"Hands off the Democratic Republic of the Congo! Hands off Africa! Stop choking Africa, it is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered," Pope Francis said.

The pope repeated this message at the open-air Mass. He made a passionate denouncement against violence — and appealed for those armed groups, who call themselves Christians, to lay down their weapons.

pope francis visit drc

Pope Francis blesses attendees as he meets with victims of the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo at the Apostolic Nunciature in Kinshasa. Tiziana Fabi/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

Pope Francis blesses attendees as he meets with victims of the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo at the Apostolic Nunciature in Kinshasa.

More than 6 million people have been displaced by years of violence in the region. In some particularly moving scenes, the pope met victims of rape and violence.

"My pain is your pain," he told them.

This story originally appeared in NPR's Newscast.

  • Pope Francis
  • Roman Catholic Church
  • Democratic Republic of Congo

‘We thank God for the pope’: Takeaways from Pope Francis’ visit to the D.R.C.

pope francis visit drc

Pope Francis concludes his four-day visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo tomorrow morning.

He had promised the people he would come, and he kept that promise, notwithstanding his physical limitations. He has now shown that his advanced age and physical mobility problems have not limited his extraordinary capacity to console the afflicted, denounce violence and corruption, call evildoers to conversion and sustain the faithful in hope.

From the moment of his arrival in the D.R.C on Tuesday, he has been received with tremendous welcome. People lined the streets from the airport to the city—over a million people attended his open-air Mass, 65,000 young people exploded with joy when he joined them at the Martyrs’ Stadium, and hundreds lined the streets when he addressed clergy and consecrated religious women and men at the cathedral on Feb. 2. Everywhere he went, people turned out to cheer him on.

Jolette Kinabayu Ka, a young nurse who attended the pope’s meeting with young people at the Martyrs’ Stadium, praised his use of a wheelchair. So often in this country, and other parts of Africa, “people in wheelchairs are considered to be handicapped, who cannot do much,” she said. “But Pope Francis shows us what they are really capable of, and gives hope to such people.”

Pope Francis had promised the people of the D.R.C that he would come, and he kept that promise, notwithstanding his physical limitations. 

While Francis has drawn significant criticism in recent weeks, the people I spoke with in the D.R.C. have hailed the pope as “a great pastor of the people” and “a man of God.”

Pope Francis delivered a powerful message to the people of the D.R.C. when he made clear that his primary concern was to promote reconciliation and peace in this war-torn land, and to tell these profoundly religious people that Christ and his teaching offers the way to healing in the D.R.C. That was the golden thread of the seven speeches he has delivered over the past three days.

In his keynote speech to the authorities, Francis used the power of his office to bring the world’s attention to “the forgotten genocide” that has taken place in this land over the past 30 years. The genocide in the D.R.C, unlike the genocide in Rwanda, has been conveniently overlooked by governments and the international community and largely ignored by the international media because it took place over decades not weeks. By throwing the papal spotlight on this tragedy, Pope Francis is calling for it to be recognized and addressed internationally, all these years later.Pope Francis said he intended, with this visit, to bring consolation to the people, and that is what he did, with great tenderness and compassion, when he met victims of the violence in the east of the country on Feb. 1. In his talk to survivors, he condemned “the armed violence, the massacres, the rapes, the destruction and occupation of villages,” that is the brutal face of the genocide and crimes that, he suggested, have both political and economic causes.

Young people gathered to meet Pope Francis at the Martyr’s stadium, chanted: “No more corruption!”

He likewise condemned “the murderous, illegal exploitation of the wealth of this country, and the attempts to fragment the country in order to control it” and, he said, “the insecurity, violence and war that tragically affect so many people are disgracefully fueled not only by outside forces but also from within, for the sake of pursuing private interests and advantage.”

Throughout his time in Kinshasa, he hit out hard against corruption, including in his talk to the country’s authorities on Jan. 31, and to the young people gathered at Martyr’s stadium, who, hearing his words, chanted: “No more corruption!”

Pope Francis, however, did not just denounce and condemn, he also sought to inspire those who have influence on the country’s future. He called for good governance by those in authority at national and local levels, and urged them to see power as service. He called on them, and also on civil society and charitable groups, to work for the elimination of poverty and inequality. He called state authorities to make significant investments in education and health care, and ensure the protection of the environment, especially given that the D.R.C. is the home of the equatorial forest, considered one of the world’s two “lungs.”

The pope also offered a roadmap to peace. He called the one million people who came to Mass on the outskirts of Kinshasa on Feb.1 and the young people and catechists who gathered at the stadium the next day, to overcome hatred, tribalism and revenge, to be converted and see each other as brothers and sisters, and become peacemakers in their homeland.

The pope has rallied priests, consecrated religious men and women, seminarians, catechists and young people “to disarm the human heart” and work for reconciliation and peace.

“We thank God for the pope, and that he has come to our country to bring hope and peace,” 20-year-old Corady Magazimi told America . “We ask God to protect him during his stay here, and we consider his visit a blessing for our land.”

“Become a people of reconciliation, capable of openness and dialogue, acceptance and forgiveness, who make rivers of peace flow through the arid plains of violence,” he said, addressing priests and consecrated religious at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Congo (Notre-Dame du Congo) on Feb. 2. But, knowing well that they faced “difficult and often dangerous conditions,” as Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo, the archbishop of Kinshasa, said when he welcomed the pope to the cathedral, Pope Francis sought to raise their spirits. “Do not be discouraged, because we need you!” he said. “You are precious and important. I say this in the name of the whole church. May you always be channels of the Lord’s consoling presence, joyous witnesses of the Gospel, prophets of peace amid the storms of violence, disciples of love, ever ready to care for the wounds of the poor and suffering.”

“Peace is a state of the spirit. One cannot import it, one builds it,” Mr. Faustin Kamba told America . “Reconciliation implies a taking of consciousness that a community here is called to live together for the good of all.”

While Pope Francis has focused his attention on the dramatic situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he also cast his thoughts to the wider African continent, and called its people to become “protagonists” of their own future.

“Hands off the Democratic Republic of the Congo! Hands off Africa! Stop choking Africa,” he said in his talk to the authorities on Jan. 31, directing himself at to foreign powers and multinational corporations. “It is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered.”

On his final full day in the D.R.C., Pope Francis, who has already visited nine countries in Africa, again returned to the situation in the continent in his talk at the cathedral. “Sadly, the history of many peoples of this continent has had to bend before the force of suffering and violence,” he said. “If there is one desire in everyone’s heart, it is that of never again having to do so, never again having to bow down before the arrogance of the powerful, or having to submit to the yoke of injustice.”

Throughout his visit, Francis has conveyed the message that there is no reason for a Christian to give into discouragement or fatalism, because “evil does not have the final word,” violence can be ended, reconciliation and peace are possible.

“We thank God for the pope, and that he has come to our country to bring hope and peace,” Corady Magazimi, a 20-year-old woman who is a student of hotel management in Kinshasa told America . “We ask God to protect him during his stay here, and we consider his visit a blessing for our land.”

pope francis visit drc

Gerard O’Connell is America’s Vatican correspondent and author of The Election of Pope Francis: An Inside Story of the Conclave That Changed History . He has been covering the Vatican since 1985.

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What the Pope's visit to the DRC and South Sudan means

President Felix Tshisekedi must exhaust all avenues to end the war in eastern DRC.

Pope Francis is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in his second day in a mission that aims to bring peace in the eastern part of the country where thousands have been killed recently in an ongoing conflict.

This is the first papal visit in the country since 1985 , and schools were closed on Feb. 1 after the government announced it would be a public holiday to allow faithful to attend a holy mass at Ndolo airport. Over 40% of DRC’s 95.6 million population are Catholics.

The last papal visit to Africa was a 2019 seven-day tour of three African countries: Mozambique, Madagascar, and Mauritius.

‘Stop exploiting Africa’

In his first day in Kinshasa on Jan.31, Pope Francis denounced acts by foreign mining companies that have been profiteering while exploiting the country’s natural mineral resources, leaving millions of people in abject poverty, oftentimes causing armed conflict .

“Hands off the Democratic Republic of the Congo! Hands off Africa! Stop choking Africa. It is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered,” he said . “It is a tragedy that these lands, and more generally the whole African continent, continue[s] to endure various forms of exploitation.”

He decried the long-lasting economic colonialism and conflict in the country, which he said the international community had for the most part become resigned to. “May violence and hatred no longer find room in the heart or on the lips of anyone, since these are inhuman and unchristian sentiments that arrest development and bring us back to a gloomy past,” the pontiff said .

Pope Francis met with president Felix Tshisekedi, who thanked him for “praying fervently for peace in the eastern region of our nation,” but lamented that it has been three decades of bloodshed in the DRC where civilian security has “been undermined by enemies of peace and terrorist groups, especially from neighboring countries.” Rwanda has been blamed for fanning the war and backing M23 rebels .

On the same day, over 122,000 people, including 65,000 children, were reported to have fled their homes over the course of one day after escalation of the conflict in North Kivu province. “These attacks on civilians need to be investigated,” Amavi Akpamagbo, c ountry d irector of Save the Children in DRC told Quartz.

The P ope also met and paid homage to the victims of the civil strife in Kinshasa.

Despite his initial itinerary including a visit to Goma, and Ituri in the North Kivu province, which are the epicenters of the conflict, the pope changed his itinerary preferring to not put the public expected to gather for his visit, in danger from the armed militia in the region.

He is, however, expected to receive a delegation of emissaries from the region, delivering an appeal for his intervention in the conflict. Just two days before his visit, armed militia carried out a massacre in the region that left at least 15 people dead.

DRC’s LGBTQ community has been hurting

The country’s LGBTQ community, which has been facing violence and excommunication , will also be looking upon the pontiff to proclaim a message of support. Pope Francis said in an interview with the Associated Press on Jan. 26 that “being homosexual isn’t a crime,” and that “we are all children of God, and God loves us as we are.”

A banner that reads “The LGBTQ+ and key pop community of the DRC welcomes His Holiness Pope Francis” is displayed in Kinshasa.

After his visit to the country with the highest Catholic population in the continent on Feb.2, Pope Francis will take a three-and-a-half hour flight from Kinshasa to Juba, the capital of the world’s newest state South Sudan. He will be the first pope to visit the oil-rich country.

Pope Francis’ South Sudan trip

Having previously postponed the tour of Africa earlier intended for July 2022, due to ill health, this visit is expected to serve as a push for peace in yet another country that continues to languish in poverty despite possessing numerous mineral and natural resources.

Like in the DRC, thousands of lives have been lost and millions displaced in recent years in South Sudan due to civil unrest, especially in Upper Nile , Jonglei, and Unity states, 12 years after its secession from the larger Sudan.

A civil war pitting President Salva Kiir’s government forces and the opposition Sudan’s People Liberation Army (SPLA) has dampened the country’s hopes for economic development.

The fighting has largely been seen as a political struggle between factions allied to president Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group and supporters of the country’s first vice president, Riek Machar, mostly from the Nuer ethnicity. At the center of it are the vast oil reserves that South Sudan has.

There have also been human rights abuses and the curtailing of press freedom. Six journalists are currently behind bars over footage of the president wetting himself at an official event.

The security situation in the DRC and South Sudan has denied them millions of dollars in foreign investment, holding the countries back from achieving economic freedom.

While Pope Francis’ visit to both countries is by no means expected to be the silver bullet that will silence the guns, it is a critical step in pushing for a peaceful coexistence. But even with such peace efforts, African countries remain less secure than they were a decade ago.

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Conflict survivors to meet Pope Francis on his DR Congo trip

Pope’s long-awaited visit to DRC and South Sudan where two of the world’s most neglected crises are ongoing.

Pope Francis

It took years for Marie Louise Wambale to re-establish her life after fighting between M23 rebels and the army of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the country’s eastern region forced her to flee with almost nothing about a decade ago.

Like most Catholics in the eastern DRC, she hoped that Pope Francis could bring a message of hope at a time when the rebels are posing their greatest threat here since 2012.

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“Many people were disappointed because they wanted to welcome him to our home, for him to come here and live our suffering, to feel it with his own eyes,” she said. “We wanted him to live it because there are many people who have fled the war. There are pregnant mothers who gave birth in the camps in very bad conditions – many women and children are suffering.”

Now Wambale has been tasked with taking this message to the capital, Kinshasa, where she will be among the Congolese faithful chosen to meet Pope Francis.

His long-awaited visit to DRC and South Sudan this week comes after he postponed an earlier trip late last year that had originally included a stop in the volatile east for health reasons. Insecurity, though, has soared in the months since so the pope is limiting his visit to Kinshasa.

“It is clear to anybody that there is a danger. But the danger, I would say, even more than for the pope is for the people,” the Vatican’s ambassador to DRC, Archbishop Ettore Balestrero told The Associated Press news agency.

The security requirements to protect people at a papal mass would be hard under ordinary circumstances, but even more delicate in an already dangerous area like the east, he said.

An estimated two million Congolese are expected at the mass at Kinshasa airport on February 1, which he said would make it the largest crowd event in DRC’s recent history.

Fighting in the eastern DRC, which involves more than 120 armed groups , has simmered for years but spiked in late 2021 with the resurgence of the M23, which had been largely dormant for nearly a decade. The rebels have captured swaths of land and are accused by the United Nations and rights groups of committing atrocities against civilians.

The violence, which has displaced approximately half a million people, has triggered a diplomatic spat with neighbouring Rwanda. Kinshasa has accused Kigali of backing the M23, an allegation also made by UN experts and the European Union.

Rwanda denies backing the group, which continues to resist a concerted pushback from the Congolese military and a regional peacekeeping force.

The region is also increasingly grappling with violence linked to ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda affiliates. Earlier this month, ISIL claimed responsibility for a bomb explosion at a church , which killed at least 14 people and injured dozens while they were praying.

In DRC, the Catholic church mediated rising tensions in 2016 after the government postponed elections, creating an agreement which led to the 2018 vote, said Katharina R Vogeli, founder of CapImpact, a peace-building organisation working in the Great Lakes region.

Religious advisers say people in countries with enormously entrenched problems need to be lifted out of a generational sense of dread and anxiety.

“It’s the message of eternal hope that transcends, which is what people need,” said Ferdinand von Habsburg-Lothringen, a peace-building expert and former adviser to the South Sudan Council of Churches.

“The church has enormous power,” he said. “Though they may not necessarily have political power, they have moral authority.”

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Pope Francis lands in DR Congo, welcomed with joy

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By Africanews

Democratic Republic Of Congo

Pope Francis has arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo  (DRC) as part of a six-day visit to the African continent that includes a trip to South Sudan .

It is the first time that a pope has visited the DRC since 1985 , a country with a population close to 100 million people, 40 percent of whom are Catholic .

"That he has left home to come to us here is a joy, for me, I see it as a dream come true. We waited for him last year, well even if he said he postponed, I didn’t have much hope anymore, but to see now that it happens, I’m thrilled! I don’t know what else to say but I’m thrilled!", said worshipper  Clémentine Teka .

The Pope is aiming to bring a message of peace to the two countries riven by poverty and conflict .

"When we see a great authority like the pope coming to the Congo , it shows that diplomacy is working and as a Christian, his presence is also as a man of God . I am not a Catholic , but the presence of a man of God in the country is also a blessing. So we can only praise his presence", said Kinshasa resident  Andy Lombi .

During his visit to DRC , the Pope will meet the authorities but also meet victims of violence as well as members of the clergy and charities operating in the country.

Aid groups are hoping Francis’ trip will shine a spotlight on two of the world’s forgotten conflicts and rekindle international attention on some of Africa’s worst humanitarian crises, amid donor fatigue and new aid priorities in Ukraine .

Tens of thousands of people are expected to attend a prayer vigil Tuesday evening at N'dolo airport ahead of a mass on Wednesday morning, which is tipped to draw more than a million faithful.

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Pope Francis meets with President of Central African Republic

Pope Francis received President Touadéra of the Central African Republic this morning for a meeting that lasted for around twenty minutes.

The President then held talks with Holy See Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin, and Archbishop Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.

During the talks, held at the Secretariat of State, discussion focused on the good relations between the Holy See and the Central African Republic, as well as the important role played by the Catholic Church in the country.

The Pope’s visit to the nation in 2015 was discussed, as were some aspects of the social, political and humanitarian situation in the region.

Both parties expressed hope that there might be an ever more effective cooperation at international level for the common good of the nation.

Pope Francis presented President Touadéra with a bronze sculpture entitled “Dialogue between Generations”, volumes of papal documents, and his Peace Message for 2024.

The talks at the Secretariat of State

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    Kinshasa is getting ready to greet the Pope. An important event for the DRC considered to hold Africa's biggest catholic community. This visit will be the first of a sovereign pontiff since John ...

  24. Pope Francis prepares to travel to strife-torn DRC and South Sudan

    Pope Francis prepares to travel to strife-torn DRC and South Sudan Pope Francis is set to travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan at the end of the month. Both are countries torn and crippled by violence, division and the festering wounds of colonialism. By Linda Bordoni

  25. GREETING OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS

    GREETING OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS TO A DELEGATION FROM THE POPE'S WORLD PRAYER NETWORK. Hall of the Popes Friday, 26 January 2024 _____ Thank you very much for your visit. I appreciate your work, which is an ecclesial work that was born within the Society of Jesus. In the apostolic work of one of the faithful, a deacon, a priest, a ...

  26. Pope Francis takes on vested interests to speak out on ...

    Pope Francis arrives for his visit with prisoners in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, on Friday, July 10, 2015. The Pope emphasized the plight of the poor during his eight-day tour of South America, which ...

  27. Pope meets Vietnam political delegation, wants to visit the country

    Pope Francis met a delegation from Vietnam's Communist Party on Thursday and the Vatican's foreign minister said the pontiff was keen to visit the Southeast Asian country in the wake of upgraded ...

  28. Pope Francis meets with President of Central African Republic

    The Pope's visit to the nation in 2015 was discussed, as were some aspects of the social, political and humanitarian situation in the region. ... Pope Francis presented President Touadéra with a bronze sculpture entitled "Dialogue between Generations", volumes of papal documents, and his Peace Message for 2024. The talks at the ...