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Pope to visit DR Congo, S. Sudan in early 2023

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  • The 85-year-old pontiff will visit Kinshasa during his trip to DRC from January 31 to February 3, before heading to Juba in South Sudan from February 3 to 5.
  • It will be the pontiff’s fifth visit to the African continent since being elected head of the worldwide Catholic church in 2013.

Pope Francis will visit the
Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan early next year, a trip previously
postponed due to problems with his knee, the Vatican said Thursday.

The 85-year-old pontiff will
visit Kinshasa during his trip to DRC from January 31 to February 3, before
heading to Juba in South Sudan from February 3 to 5.

On the second leg, he will be
joined by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Moderator of the
General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields.

It will be the pontiff’s fifth
visit to the African continent since being elected head of the worldwide
Catholic church in 2013.

The trip was initially planned
for July this year but was postponed “at the request of his doctors”,
the Vatican said at the time, as the pope underwent treatment for knee pain.

There had also been concerns
about security in visiting two countries plagued by violence, according to
Italian media reports.

– Commitment to peace –

South Sudan, the world’s
newest nation, has suffered from chronic instability since independence in
2011, including a brutal five-year civil war.

The Vatican has been directly
involved in efforts to end the conflict, with Pope Francis himself kissing the
feet of rival leaders Salva Kiir and Riek Machar in an extraordinary moment in
2019.

It was at the same retreat
that he agreed to go to South Sudan with the archbishop and the moderator.

The Church of Scotland said
that during the visit to Juba, the three men would “meet local church
representatives, civil war victims living in a displaced persons camp and lead
a large open-air prayer vigil for peace”.

“The purpose of the visit
is to renew a commitment to peace and reconciliation and stand in solidarity
with millions of ordinary people who are suffering profoundly from continued
armed conflict, violence, floods and famine,” it said.

Archbishop of Canterbury Welby
said the three religious leaders “share a deep desire to stand in solidarity
with the people of South Sudan”.

– Programme reduced –

The DRC, which Pope John Paul
II visited in 1985, is struggling to contain dozens of armed groups in the east
of the vast nation.

The pope — who in recent
months has used a wheelchair — had initially planned to visit Goma, in the
war-torn east of DRC, but this stop has been removed from the new programme.

Carlos Ndaka, auxiliary bishop
of Kinshasa, told AFP he welcomed the visit of pope “with great joy”.

However, “it hurts us
very much that for security reasons the pope cannot go to Goma, for a visit to
comfort our brothers who suffer because of the war”, he said.

Instead, the pontiff will meet
with victims from the east in Kinshasa.

About 40 percent of the
estimated 100 million inhabitants of DRC are Catholic.

Another 35 percent are
Protestant or affiliated to Christian revivalist churches, nine percent are
Muslim, and 10 percent follow the Kimbanguist Congolese church.

The country has a secular
government, but religion is omnipresent in most people’s lives and the Catholic
Church has at times played a leading role in local politics.

The pope’s trip will be the
40th abroad of his papacy.



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