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The Pope begins his postponed trip to Africa, bled dry by hunger and wars


Francis arrives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Tuesday and in South Sudan on Friday. Challenges of an unprecedented and highly anticipated visit.

The Pope will begin his 40th apostolic journey this Tuesday with a pilgrimage until Sunday, February 5, to two very rich countries in Africa,

with their subsoils full of minerals and considered among the poorest in the world

, to give them comfort and hope in an atmosphere of violence, food shortages and climatic disasters.

In the Republic of the Congo and in South Sudan, Francis will promote a national reconciliation that will move them away from civil wars, as

a pilgrim of peace to drive away conflicts

and violence that do not stop.

The Argentine Pope will also go to the second largest country in Africa, with more than 90 million inhabitants, half of whom are Catholic, as "a pastor who meets the people of God" in the Republic of Congo.

To South Sudan, which became independent from Sudan in 2011, Jorge Bergoglio will travel together with the Angligan leaders, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the moderator of the Church of Scotland, Jim Wallace.

It is

a common ecumenical pilgrimage, unprecedented in history,

to witness to the faithful of the two main Christian religions of a young nation martyred by famine and war, the commitment of its leaders to help them embark on the path towards economic growth society and peace.

The African visit was scheduled for the middle of last year, but the Pope had to cancel it due to mobility problems caused by knee pain that prevented him from walking.

Now he is much better, although he can only walk briefly and cannot celebrate masses and other religious acts that he presides over, delegating it to another religious.

But the faithful and their interlocutors have assimilated the Pope's need to continue using the wheelchair when traveling.

A woman looks at an image of the Pope on her cell phone, in a church in Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, days ago.

Photo: AP

Challenge for Francis

This week is

one of the most difficult tours for Francis,

particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo, hit by violence in the east of the country, which forced him to cancel the planned visit to Goma, the second Congolese city.

In the eastern regions,

more than a hundred armed groups are active,

in part financed by very powerful economic interests behind the control of mineral wealth as important as the

coltan mines

, on the border with Rwanda, an essential mineral to manufacture electronic devices and weapons. more complex modern

The Pope's first stop will be in Kinshasa, one of the main African metropolises, with 16 million inhabitants.

Francis will ride aboard the pope mobile waving to the crowds that will gather to celebrate his arrival.

The Catholic Church has a great influence

in what was called Zaire and before the independence the Belgian Congo.

The highlight of his visit to Kinshasa will be the mass at the Ndolo airport, to which more than a million people are expected to attend.

Unabled for security reasons to travel to Goma, the Pope will receive at the building of the apostolic nunciature (Vatican embassy) where he will stay, a delegation of victims of violence in the east of the country who will bear witness to their sufferings.

In these war-torn areas , the Italian ambassador in Kinshasa, Luca Attanasio

, and his guard were assassinated

last year .

In the Uturi region, more than two hundred civilians have died in the last six weeks due to military clashes and attacks.

More than 50 thousand people were forced to flee.

According to the United Nations, the displaced in that province number one and a half million.

Violence and natural resources

The Pope will criticize in his interventions the excessive exploitation of natural resources

with the use of violence that attacks the workers and the other inhabitants of the country.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who visited Congo in preparation for the pope's visit, said the wounds caused by the violence "run very deep."

“It is a prolonged situation: violence, opposition and conflicts.

The fact that the Pope is meeting with the victims of this situation is a very significant gesture that will undoubtedly comfort them," Parolin said.

A gospel music concert organized as part of the events for the Pope's visit in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo.


The clashes in the east, especially in the Goma area, are being fueled by

the growing clash between the Republic of Congo and Rwanda,

accused of supporting the M23, the most important guerrilla group, which would be implicated in the assassination of the ambassador. Italian and the carabinieri non-commissioned officer who was escorting him.

In the Vatican they pointed out that "the international community fears that the conflict could drag on with destabilizing consequences in the regions of East Africa."

According to the United Nations World Food Program,

more than 26 million people face severe hunger

in the Republic of the Congo.

The Catholic Church has always firmly supported the need for the country to have democratic regimes and for the electoral process not to be interrupted.

In December there will be presidential elections and political groups aspire to have the support or the benevolence of Catholics, the most important religious faith in the country.

The Congolese of all religions are shocked by

the Pope's visit, the first since John Paul II was there in 1985


Since then, the long conflicts have left thousands dead and millions displaced, forced above all to fight hunger and malnutrition.

Calendars with the image of Pope Francis in front of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Congo, in Kinshasa, this Sunday.

Photo: AP

Unpublished visit to South Sudan

On Friday the Pope will say goodbye to the Congolese and leave for Juba, the capital of South Sudan, the youngest and most tormented African country.

Independence from the rest of Sudan in 2011, two years later the civil war

broke out ,

pitting different ethnic groups against each other.

The result was a massacre estimated at 400,000 people.

Five years later, the war was controlled, although up to now the premise of consolidating peace with a unified national army has not been achieved.

The arrival for the first time of a Pope

already represents a significant element of pacification.

But the nature of the visit is even more extraordinary because Francis will arrive accompanied by the two most important leaders of the Anglican Church.

In South Sudan the presence of Anglicans is important.

There is no precedent for such an important ecumenical journey in Christian history.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Church of Scotland Moderator Ian Greenshields will accompany the Catholic Pope.

Welby commented: "After centuries of division, the leaders of three different parts of Christianity are coming together in an unprecedented way."

In 2013, South Sudanese political leaders visited the Pope at the Vatican, accompanied by the heads of the Anglican church.


a remarkable gesture also unprecedented

in living memory, the pontiff knelt and kissed the feet of the Sudanese leaders, imploring them to become "artisans of peace."

Sudanese women display a flag with photos of Pope Francis, in Juba, South Sudan, on Monday.

Photo: AFP

The population of this new Sudan, among which there are two and a half million displaced persons and refugees and 2.3 million who fled the country due to the civil war, saw the Pope's gesture through the media and welcomed the attitude of the Argentine pontiff .

Now they are preparing to receive him, as he promised when he had to suspend his trip last year due to health problems.

South Sudan is considered

among the poorest countries on the planet,

with a per capita income of just $322.

The population lives partly thanks to aid from international organizations.

More than eight and a half million people,

76% of the population, suffer from hunger,

the most widespread disease in this country.

After his arrival, the Pope will meet with the political leaders in Juba and on Saturday, February 4, he will meet with the religious in the Cathedral of Santa Teresa.

Also that day he will receive delegations of internally displaced persons in the cathedral and will listen to them.

The three religious leaders will participate in an ecumenical celebration preceded in the mausoleum of John Karang, hero of independence.

In a country of 11 million people, 70% identify as Christian, Anglican, Catholic or Presbyterian.

The Scottish Greenshieds said his Church had collaborated with the Catholic Church since 2015 to "support vital work for peace, reconciliation and conflict resolution."

He added: "We pray that this visit with the Holy Father will be a catalyst for the leaders of South Sudan to focus on what unites them and not what divides them, because all are loved equally in the eyes of the Lord." .

Vatican correspondent


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All news articles on 2023-01-30

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