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Pope to head to DRC and S Sudan in July

POPE FRANCIS

© Marco ZEPPETELLA / AFP

Le pape François.

I.Media - published on 03/03/22

In South Sudan, he might travel with the leader of the Anglican Communion.

Pope Francis will make an apostolic trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan from July 2-7, 2022, the Vatican press office announced March 3. In South Sudan, the Pontiff could make part of his visit in the company of the Archbishop of Canterbury, says a Vatican source.

The Pontiff will travel from July 2 to 5 in the Democratic Republic of Congo and will visit the cities of Kinshasa and Goma. He will be in South Sudan from July 5-7, visiting the capital Juba.

The visit of the head of the Catholic Church to South Sudan promises to be historic: no pope has yet visited this country since its foundation in 2011. This trip will also have a very important diplomatic dimension, linked to the role of mediator played by the Holy See in this East African country for several years.

In April 2019, the Pope made a striking gesture: He knelt down in front of the enemy leaders of South Sudan and kissed their feet to urge them to reconcile, during a meeting organized at the Vatican. In order to give them a concrete encouragement, the Pontiff expressed his wish to visit the young country once the conflict was resolved and the situation was more stable.

In South Sudan, the general stalemate of the civil war has made work particularly complex for the papal nuncios. Indeed, since 2011, a government faction and several opposition movements, gathered within the SSOMA (Alliance of opposition movements of South Sudan) oppose each other in a murderous struggle for power.

Faced with these tribal confrontations, the Holy See does not act alone. In South Sudan, where Catholics are not in the majority (37.5% of the population), Rome has implemented an original strategy of ecumenical diplomacy. To convey the message of peace, the Catholic Church appealed to Scottish Anglicans and Calvinists, who were very present in this former British colony.

It is moreover in collaboration with them that the prospect of a trip was considered, starting in 2017. At the end of a new meeting organized at the Vatican in 2019, Justin Welby and Pope Francis declared to be ready to travel together to South Sudan if significant progress is observed.

In the Congo, in the footsteps of John Paul II

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pope Francis will walk in the footsteps of John Paul II, who visited the great country of equatorial Africa twice – at a time when it was called Zaire – in 1980 and then in 1985.

In January 2020, Pope Francis warmly received in audience the new President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Félix Tshisekedi, on the eve of the Covid-19 pandemic. This visit ratified the resumption of more peaceful relations after the departure of President Joseph Kabila in 2019. Felix Tshisekedi, on the occasion of this meeting, invited the Pontiff to his country.

The interview also led to the application of the framework agreement signed in 2016 by the two States to define in particular the legal status of the Catholic Church in the DRC. This enacts the “freedom” of the Church in its apostolic activity and the areas entrusted to it – education, health, pastoral care, charity, etc.

In this country which has more than 100 million inhabitants and where the poverty rate is abysmal, the Catholic Church is very influential and acts as mediator. After the departure of Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo in 2018, it is the young Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo who, at 62, is the great figure of the Church there.

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Pope Francis
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