The Holy Father has asked for prayers for his Apostolic Journey to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) and South Sudan, which is set to take place between 31 January and 5 February.
It is the first Papal visit to DR Congo since St Pope John Paul II travelled there in 1985, and the first ever papal visit to South Sudan. Pope Francis has said he is setting out on the visit as a ‘pilgrim of peace’. During the Sunday Angelus, Pope Francis sent a message to the ‘beloved peoples who await me’. He noted that ‘these lands have suffered greatly from lengthy conflicts’.
More Violence in the DR Congo
The Holy Father is due to stay in Kinshasa from 31 January until 3 February. There he will meet with civil authorities as well as Church and civil groups. He will also meet with victims of the conflict in the east of the country.
But sadly, more violent attacks have happened in just the past few weeks. On Sunday 15 January, Fides News service reported that at least 15 people were killed in a triple assault in Kasindi, Beni Territory and North Kivu.
The provinces of Ituri and North Kivu are currently under a ‘state of siege’ – introduced by the Kinshasa government in May 2021 to contain the violence of armed groups in the two areas. But these measures have given broad powers to the military, and are affecting the ordinary citizens in both areas. They also don’t seem to have much impact on the guerrilla groups which they are supposedly targeting. One group, known as the M23, has managed to completely cut off the North Kivu province capital city, Goma. As Fides News service recently reported:
‘Goma is already suffering from the scarcity and rising prices of food and basic necessities. M23 currently occupies more than 100 villages in the Rutchuru territory; in many of them it has set up an administration parallel to that of the State, appointing new local authorities loyal to it and imposing illegal taxes; it has carried out massacres of civilian populations… and carried out arbitrary arrests and acts of torture’.
We ask Our Lady’s intercession as we join in prayer for the Holy Father’s visit to DR Congo to be fruitful in bringing about true peace and unity across the country.
Christian Unity in South Sudan
Meanwhile, the second leg of the Pope’s journey will involve an ecumenical pilgrimage. For the South Sudan visit, he will be joined by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and Pastor Iain Greenshields, President of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
South Sudan has been devastated and shattered by decades of civil wars. But it is a sign of hope that the three Churches will present a united front on this visit. Leaders of various faith communities have advocated for peace negotiations over the years, and we pray that now this special visit will be an opportunity to truly spread the message of peace and unity. Fr Samuel Abe, the general coordinator of the Pope’s visit to South Sudan, said:
‘the Pope is opening his hands and voice to God for the people of South Sudan to be one. Our conflict will not end if we don’t unite our hearts.’
In his address on Sunday 29 January, the Holy Father offered a heartfelt greeting to the people of South Sudan, which, he noted:
‘longs for an end to the constant violence that forces many people to be displaced and to live in conditions of great hardship’
We turn to St Josephine Bakhita and St Daniel Comboni as we join in prayer for a successful mission of peace and unity.