Pope will visit DR Congo, South Sudan in early 2023

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

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

In 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 he was elected head of the world Catholic church in 2013.

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

There were also security concerns when visiting two countries plagued by violence, according to Italian media reports.

– Commitment to peace –

South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, has suffered from chronic instability since its 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, victims of the civil war living in a displaced persons camp and lead a large outdoor prayer vigil for the peace”.

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

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

– Reduced program –

The Democratic Republic of Congo, 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 eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, but this stop was dropped from the new schedule.

Carlos Ndaka, auxiliary bishop of Kinshasa, told AFP that he received the Pope’s visit “with great joy.”

However, “it hurts us a lot that for security reasons the Pope cannot go to Goma, for a visit to console our brothers who are suffering because of the war,” he said.

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

About 40 percent of the estimated 100 million people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are Catholic. Another 35 percent are Protestants or affiliated with Christian revival churches, nine percent are Muslim and 10 percent follow the Kimbanguist Congolese church.

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

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

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