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Pope Francis took off from Rome’s Fiumicino airport on January 31, 2023, heading for Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he will stay until February 3, before moving on to Juba, capital of South Sudan, from February 3 to 5. This 40th apostolic journey of Pope Francis, which will be his fourth visit to Africa, will be an opportunity to support local Churches committed to peace and reconciliation in these countries marked by conflict.
Pope Francis left Rome’s Fiumicino airport at 8:28 a.m. for a 6.5-hour trip aboard an A359 chartered by the Italian company ITA Airways. The plane will fly over Italy, Tunisia, Algeria, Niger, Chad, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Republic of Congo and finally the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Before leaving the Casa Santa Marta residence and heading to the airport, Pope Francis met with a dozen migrants and refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, according to the Holy See Press Office. They and their families are welcomed and supported in Rome by the Astalli Center, administered by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). These migrants and refugees were accompanied for this interview with the Pope, traditional for his departures on his trip, by Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, prefect of the Dicastery for the Service of Charity.
Upon arriving at Fiumicino airport, the Pope’s car stopped briefly near the monument to the dead of Kindu, the 13 Italian airmen killed in the Congo on November 11, 1961, during the civil war that followed the independence of this huge country in the grip of chaos and secession from Katanga.
These officers and non-commissioned officers assigned to technical assistance and supply missions for UN forces were between 22 and 42 years old when they were executed by Congolese soldiers. The tragedy provoked strong emotions and a tense political debate in Italy about the participation of Italian military personnel in foreign operations. The Pope prayed for the victims of this massacre and for all those who have lost their lives while participating in humanitarian and peace missions, before boarding his plane, a few minutes behind schedule.
There are 75 journalists accompanying the Pope on this 40th apostolic journey, including the special envoy of I.MEDIA. Pope Francis is accompanied by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Holy See, Cardinal Kurt Koch (Prefect of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Christian Unity), Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot (Prefect of the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue) and Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle (Prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization).
A tour to promote peace and reconciliation in Africa
He is expected to land at 3:00 p.m. – the time zone is the same as in Rome – at the Ndjili international airport in Kinshasa, where a short welcoming ceremony is planned with the presence of the Congolese Prime Minister, Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde Kyenge.
The Pope will travel in the popemobile for part of the 25 kilometers from the airport to the Palace of the Nation, the official residence of the President of the DRC – and former residence of the Belgian Governor General in Leopoldville.
At 4:30 p.m., a short welcoming ceremony will begin, followed by a closed-door meeting with Félix Tshisekedi, president of the DRC since January 2019.
At 5:30 p.m., Pope Francis will deliver the first speech of his trip, addressing the country’s political and religious authorities, the diplomatic corps and civil society gathered in the gardens of the Palace of the Nation. This will be his only speech on the first day of the trip,
The trip was originally scheduled for July 2022, but was postponed due to his health and the security situation in Goma, in the east of the country, where he was supposed to be visiting.
The organizers finally abandoned a Goma stop, considering it too dangerous, but the Pope will meet on February 1 with victims of the clashes in the east of the DRC, who will travel to Kinshasa to meet him.
The second stage of this African tour will take him to South Sudan from February 3 to 5, for a trip with an ecumenical tone. The Pope will travel with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland to encourage the fragile peace process in this majority-Christian country, which has been independent only since 2011 but has been torn apart by a civil war that has left more than 400,000 dead.