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Pope asks us to offer a day of Lenten fasting for Congo and South Sudan


Marie Cacace-Oxfam-.(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Kathleen N. Hattrup - published on 02/05/18

February 23 will be Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace, with non-Catholics and non-Christians as well.

Pope Francis on Sunday named February 23 as a Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace.

The prayer day is for “the tragic protracted situations of conflict in different parts of the world,” but especially for those suffering violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in South Sudan.

“I also invite non-Catholic and non-Christian brothers and sisters to join us in this initiative in whatever ways they deem most appropriate,” he said.

A day of prayer and fasting hearkens to Jesus’ words in Matthew 17:21 / Mark 9:29, when the disciples are unable to cast out a demon and ask Jesus why they have been unsuccessful. “This kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting,” he answers them.

In November, Francis led a prayer service at St. Peter’s for peace in the two nations. He has repeatedly appealed for peace there.

He has had hopes of visiting both nations, but with the conflict, a papal visit has been impossible.

Recap of what’s going on

Democratic Republic of Congo:

Joseph Kabila is the country’s president. He is only 46 but has ruled the country for 17 years. His term of office ran out in December 2016, and he is not constitutionally able to run again, but he has not organized elections. At the end of 2016, under mounting pressure, Kabila managed to keep a certain calm by promising elections within a year. The bishops helped to broker the deal. That year passed, though, with Kabila still in office. Elections are now planned for December of this year. The failure to hold elections as scheduled has fueled protests.

The country has the highest number of displaced people in Africa. As much as 10% of the population (some 7.7 million people) are coping with extreme hunger.

The country is at risk of falling back into full-fledged civil war for the third time in two decades.

DRC is about 50% Catholic. The pope was planning to visit the country last year, but had to cancel due to the unrest. “The pope wanted to come. The Holy See has made clear to the Congolese authorities that his visit is conditioned on the organization of the elections which are established by its constitution,” Argentinian Archbishop Luis Mariano Montemayor – the Vatican ambassador to the DRC – told UN Radio last year.

South Sudan:

The Economist gave this summary in October of last year:

South Sudan, the world’s newest country, is like a jigsaw puzzle that has been broken apart, soaked in petrol and set alight. It will not be easy to put back together. It seceded from Sudan in 2011, after half a century of on-off rebellion and a peace deal in 2005. In a referendum, 99% of South Sudanese (who are mostly black and non-Muslim) voted to separate from the Arab, Muslim north. Sadly, clashes between different ethnic groups within South Sudan began almost immediately after independence. (There are about 60 tribes in the country.) Full-blown civil war erupted in 2013, after President Salva Kiir (a Dinka) sacked Vice-President Riek Machar (a Nuer). A truce in 2016 lasted less than four months.  … Out of South Sudan’s pre-war population of 12m, the UN estimates that 2m have been displaced internally and another 2m have fled abroad.

Another round of South Sudan peace talks began in Ethiopia today.

Madagascar and Italy’s “Day for Life”

The pope on Sunday also promised prayers for Madagascar, “recently hit by a strong cyclone, which has caused victims, displaced people and wreaked extensive damage” and prayed that they may be comforted and the supported by the Lord.

And he mentioned Italy’s “Day for Life,” which had the theme “The gospel of life, joy for the world.” Francis said he joins the Italian bishops in supporting the various ecclesial realities that in many ways promote and sustain life.

Read more:
A Practical Guide to Fasting

Pope Francis
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