Why is Pope Francis visiting DRC and South Sudan? | Explainer News
Pope Francis is visiting the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan this week to deliver a message of peace and reconciliation to two countries affected by conflict.
The pontiff will begin his trip on Tuesday in Kinshasa, the Congo’s capital, where he will stay until Friday before heading to Juba, the capital of South Sudan.
Leaders from the Church of England and the Church of Scotland will join the Pope on the second leg of the trip.
The six-day trip was originally scheduled for July 2022 but was delayed due to Francis suffering from knee problems that recently forced him to use a wheelchair.
The trip will be Francis’ 40th trip abroad since he was elected head of the Catholic Church in 2013. This will be his fifth visit to Africa.
Why is the Pope visiting the DRC?
The Vatican’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo said the trip would remind the world that decades of conflict cannot be ignored.
For years, the Central African nation has struggled with instability and poverty despite its vast mineral wealth.
“The Congo also represents social injustice, the shame of underdevelopment and poverty,” said Samuel Pommeret of the NGO CCFD-Terre Solidaire.
It has been a battlefield for more than 100 armed groups vying for control of the territory or using it as a base to attack some of the DRC’s neighbors such as Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Rwanda and Uganda.
The M23 is best known for being one of the deadliest in North Kivu and Ituri, two eastern mining provinces bordering Rwanda and Uganda. The Congolese government, UN experts and the European Union have accused Rwanda of supporting the rebels, a charge that Kigali denies.
The conflict has displaced half a million people and killed hundreds.
“The voice of the Pope will be extremely encouraging for the country, but it will also be a strong impetus for the political classes to solve the problems of the country,” Mauro Garofalo, head of international relations at the Roman Community of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic social organization. service, the Agence France-Presse news agency reported.
Francis will be the first pope to visit the country since 1985, which “may also send a message to the economic actors who benefit from these riches,” Pommeret said.
About 45 million of the 100 million people in the DRC are Catholics. More than a million people are expected to attend the outdoor mass that Francis will celebrate on Wednesday at Kinshasa airport.
Why is the Pope visiting South Sudan?
The pope had shown interest in visiting predominantly Christian South Sudan for years, but plans were put on hold due to his health and instability in the country.
The pontiff is expected to make an appeal for peace with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Church of Scotland moderator Ian Greenshields.
In 2019, Catholic, Anglican and Scottish church leaders met at the Vatican with South Sudanese rivals Riek Machar and Salva Kiir to urge them to salvage a stalled peace deal signed a year earlier.
In an act that stunned the world, Francis knelt down and kissed the duo’s feet, urging them not to return to the conflict after both men were accused of being responsible for war crimes.
South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, officially seceded from Sudan in 2011, but civil war broke out two years later, resulting in 400,000 deaths. The two main parties to the conflict signed a peace deal in 2018, but there are unresolved issues.
According to the UN, there are 2.2 million internally displaced persons in South Sudan, and another 2.3 million have fled the country.
In June, the UN cut food aid to South Sudan due to insufficient funding. Aid organizations said donors have diverted attention to the war in Ukraine. The UN has said that 7.76 million people, about two-thirds of South Sudan’s population, are likely to face severe food insecurity this year.
“This is a very important element of the crisis in South Sudan,” Garofalo said. “The joint work of Christian churches and denominations can be an antidote to ethnicity and political rivalry.”
Are there any security concerns?
The pope’s visit to both countries was accompanied by security concerns.
Francis plans to travel to the eastern part of the DRC, where the M23 has advanced near the Goma shopping center in its latest offensive.
His new itinerary no longer includes Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu. Instead, the Pope will meet with the victims of the conflict in Kinshasa, where security is not expected to be an issue.
Despite a peace agreement in South Sudan, the country continues to face instability as parts of the agreement, including the deployment of a unified national army, have yet to be implemented.