Cardinal Parolin honored to be sent by Pope to the DRC, South Sudan
By Salvatore Cernuzio - Paris
"It is an important trip, I feel truly honored to be able to go to both the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan and to bring to those peoples the Pope's affection, together with the assurance that as soon as conditions permit, especially from the point of view of health, he himself will make this trip.”
The Secretary of State said this from the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, as he prepared to board a plane to Kinshasa - the Capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo – for the first leg of his 1 – 8 July trip which also includes a visit to South Sudan.
Sent by the Pope
With a heart filled with hope for the mission, the Cardinal is set to visit the two countries as a representative of the Pope who, last June 11, announced his inability to make his 37th International Apostolic Journey because of health problems related to his right leg.
The Pope expressed his regret during the Angelus on 12 June, noting that it is a visit he has wanted for years; particularly the visit to South Sudan which he was to make with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Ian Greenshields.
Encouragement in faith
Pope Francis had promised the peoples of the two countries that he would personally visit them to “encourage them to move forward in their faith and Christian witness,” explained Cardinal Parolin to Vatican Media, which is accompanying him during this trip.
The 8-day visit is primarily pastoral - not diplomatic in nature - even though meetings with authorities are scheduled.
Meetings and visits
“The main purpose [of the trip] is to preside over two Masses to be held on July 3 in Kinshasa and July 7 in Juba, respectively. Other meetings have been organized around this main aim by the nuncios who have taken advantage of the presence of Secretary of State,” he said.
These include visits to the camps for displaced people in Bentiu and a center for disabled children in Usratuna in South Sudan.
"We will go to show the Pope's solidarity to these people who are living in terrible conditions, I was told that the camp has been flooded for a long time.... There are different activities that involve various categories of people but always in this perspective of bringing them the presence, the affection, and the blessing of the Pope," the Secretary of State stressed.
The Pope’s message
The Cardinal also reports the words he shared with the Holy Father before his departure.
"He told me that he was very happy that there was this possibility of me going to represent him, knowing that on the part of the population, after the first disappointment at the announcement of his inability to travel, a great expectation had taken over and there was never a lack of intense prayer for his health."
The Pope, the Cardinal added, “confirmed me as the bearer of his affection, his message and his desire to travel as he had initially planned.”
The program of the visit was released on Friday via the Twitter account of the Secretariat of State, @TerzaLoggia.
The Cardinal will meet with Congolese Prime Minister, Jean-Michel Sama Lukande, on Saturday July 2, and will participate in the signing of specific agreements between the Congolese Bishops' Conference and the government. He is also scheduled to meet with the president of the DRC, Félix Tshisekedi.
On July 3, the Cardinal will celebrate Mass in front of the parliament building, in the same place where the Pope was scheduled to celebrate Mass. He will then meet with local religious congregations.
The Vatican Secretary of State is then scheduled to travel to Juba, South Sudan on 4 July, where he will have talks with President Salva Kiir Mayardit, and the First Vice President, Riek Machar. He will also meet with the country's bishops.
On July 5, the Vatican Secretary of State will visit the displaced people in Bentiu camp and celebrate a Mass for them. He will then meet with UN representatives and the governor.
On July 7, the Cardinal will also celebrate Mass in John Garang Mausoleum Park, bless the foundation stone of the new Nunciature in Juba and meet with clergy and religious.
The trip will conclude with a visit to the Catholic University and a visit to the Disabled Children's Center in Usratuna.
Cardinal Parolin is scheduled to return to Rome in the afternoon on July 9.