© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis attends the Vespers prayer service to rejoice the conversion of St. Paul at St. Paul’s Basilica in Rome, Italy, January 25, 2023. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane
By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis begins a visit on Tuesday to 2 fragile African nations usually forgotten by the world, the place protracted conflicts have left thousands and thousands of refugees and displaced folks grappling with starvation.
The Jan. 31-Feb 5 go to to Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan, takes the 86-year-old pope to locations the place Catholics make up about half of the populations and the place the Church is a key participant in well being and academic programs in addition to in democracy-building efforts.
The journey was scheduled to happen final July however was postponed as a result of Francis was struggling a flare-up of a persistent knee ailment. He nonetheless makes use of a wheelchair and cane however his knee has improved considerably.
Each nations are wealthy in pure assets – DRC in minerals and South Sudan in oil – however beset with poverty and strife.
DRC, which is the second-largest nation in Africa and has a inhabitants of about 90 million, is getting its first go to by a pope since John Paul II travelled there in 1985, when it was often called Zaire.
Francis had deliberate to go to the japanese metropolis of Goma however that cease was scrapped following the resurgence of combating between the military and the M23 insurgent group within the space the place Italy’s ambassador, his bodyguard and driver have been killed in an ambush in 2021.
Francis will keep within the capital, Kinshasa, however will meet there with victims of violence from the east.
“Congo is an ethical emergency that can’t be ignored,” the Vatican’s ambassador to DRC, Archbishop Ettore Balestrero, informed Reuters.
In keeping with the U.N. World Meals Programme, 26 million folks within the DRC face extreme starvation.
The nation’s 45 million-strong Catholic Church has a protracted historical past of selling democracy and, because the pope arrives, it’s gearing as much as monitor elections scheduled for December.
“Our hope for the Congo is that this go to will reinforce the Church’s engagement in assist of the electoral course of,” stated Britain’s ambassador to the Vatican, Christ Trott, who spent a few years as a diplomat in Africa.
DRC is getting its first go to by a pope since John Paul II travelled there in 1985, when it nonetheless was often called Zaire.
UNPRECEDENTED JOINT PILGRIMAGE
The journey takes on an unprecedented nature on Friday when the pope leaves Kinshasa for South Sudan’s capital, Juba.
That leg is being made with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby and the Moderator of the Normal Meeting of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields.
They characterize the Christian make-up of the world’s youngest nation, which gained independence in 2011 from predominantly Muslim Sudan after a long time of battle and has a inhabitants of round 11 million.
“This shall be a historic go to,” Welby stated. “After centuries of division, leaders of three totally different elements of (Christianity) are coming collectively in an unprecedented method.”
Two years after independence, battle erupted when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir clashed with these loyal to Vice President Riek Machar, who’s from a unique ethnic group. The bloodshed spiralled right into a civil conflict that killed 400,000 folks.
A 2018 deal stopped the worst of the combating, however elements of the settlement – together with the deployment of a re-unified nationwide military – haven’t but been applied.
There are 2.2 million internally displaced folks in South Sudan and one other 2.3 million have fled the nation as refugees, in response to the United Nations, which has praised the Catholic Church as a “highly effective and lively drive in constructing peace and reconciliation in conflict-torn areas”.
In probably the most exceptional gestures since his papacy started in 2013, Francis knelt to kiss the toes of South Sudan’s beforehand warring leaders throughout a retreat on the Vatican in April 2019, urging them to not return to civil conflict.
Trott, a former ambassador in South Sudan, stated he hoped the three Churchmen can persuade political leaders to “fulfil the promise of the independence motion”.