Pope Francis prepares to travel to strife-torn DRC and South Sudan
By Linda Bordoni
Answering questions put to him by reporters regarding insecurity in the two African nations Pope Francis is about to visit, the Director of the Holy See Press Office said “there is no specific threat” in either country.
Matteo Bruni also affirmed that local authorities have put all security measures in place to guarantee the safety of everyone.
Bruni was speaking during a pre-apostolic journey briefing on Tuesday morning during which he gave a detailed run-down of the Pope’s visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo and to South Sudan, a visit he had been forced to postpone last July due to health issues.
He noted that the Holy Father will visit the DRC from January 31 to February 3 and then spend two days in South Sudan with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland on an ecumenical pilgrimage for peace before returning to the Vatican.
40th apostolic visit abroad
This journey, Bruni added, will be Pope Francis’ 40th apostolic visit abroad. At its conclusion, he will have visited 60 countries.
He goes to Congo in the footsteps of Pope St. John Paul II who visited the nation in 1980 and 1985. It was a very different country back then, Bruni explained, a former Belgian colony called Zaire. He also noted that the Polish Pope’s visit was the first papal journey to the African continent since Pope St. Paul VI’s visit to Uganda in 1969.
So, he added, this is the 20th papal visit to Africa, the 4th for Pope Francis who went to Kenya, Uganda and Central African Republic in 2015, to Morocco in March 2019, and later to Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius in the same year.
Africa, Bruni continued, is where some 20% of the world’s Catholic live, and that percentage is increasing.
He spent time describing the vitality of the Catholic Church in Africa, the large numbers of young Catholics, and he highlighted how Pope Francis dedicates much thought and prayers to Africa as witnessed by his messages, appeals and constant attention.
Changes to the original schedule
The Holy See Press Office Director explained that there have been changes made to the Pope’s originally planned itinerary in DRC where he was scheduled to visit Goma, in North Kivu, a particularly volatile region. As violence continues to ravage parts of the province, that stop was scrapped.
“Not because he was fearful for himself”, Bruni said, but because he wanted to be certain that no one would be at risk of attacks while gathering to see the Pope or celebrating Mass with him.
Pope Francis has long desired to travel to predominantly Christian South Sudan but the unstable situation in the country had complicated plans for a visit.
Bruni recalled the spiritual retreat he hosted in the Vatican in April 2019 for South Sudanese leaders and ecclesiastical authorities of South Sudan, during which he knelt at their feet and begged them to give peace a chance and to be worthy fathers of the nation.
A faltering peace deal was signed in the world’s youngest nation country in 2018, putting an end to a five-year civil war that killed 400,000 people. But political strife, poverty, ethnic enmity and climate change continue to devastate the people who are reeling from hunger, violence and lack of governance.