Pope Francis travels this Tuesday to the heart of central Africa, the place where Catholicism (faithful and vocations) grows the most, and to two of the most dangerous countries on the continent: South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The Pope will visit both States from January 31 to February 5 to ask, among other things, for an end to the violence that has terrorized the population for years in a territory with some 120 active armed militias. A complicated and physically demanding trip ―due to the weather, the distances and the security challenges―, which comes only a month after the death of Benedict XVI and which will put his physical resistance to the test, due to the knee problems that still forced to move in a wheelchair. Francis’ first trip, in short, without an emeritus pontiff living next to him in the Vatican.
The Pope will land on Tuesday in Kinshasa, the capital of Congo (95 million inhabitants). Mythical place in the literature of Joseph Conrad or Norman Mailer, but also the epicenter of the bloody war for control of the exploitation of mineral deposits that supply technology companies around the world for the manufacture of telephones and computers. Coltan, product of the union of two other metals (columbite and tantalite) and cornerstone for the manufacture of any smartphone or game console, is at the center of the conflict. The bloody struggle for control of the mines – very few are actually managed by the State – is also promoted by neighboring countries such as Rwanda or Uganda, in the border region of North Kivu and South Kivu, which have stolen and exported this material . The latest UN data estimates that between June 2021 and March 2022, 1,261 civilians were killed by armed groups in the North Kivu and Ituri regions.
Concern over security problems in the area has grown in recent months. In fact, the Vatican has canceled the visit to Goma, one of the DRC cities where the Rwandan Hutus fled during the 1994 genocide, initially planned for the July trip, which had to be canceled due to the Pope’s health problems. . “I’m not going because I’m afraid, nothing is going to happen to me, but with an environment like this and seeing what they are doing, they drop a bomb on the stadium and kill many people,” the same pontiff explained in the magazine black world. A few days later, a bomb attack on an evangelical church left 17 dead.
“There is no specific threat on the pontiff,” stressed his spokesman, Matteo Bruni, pointing out that the problems could be for the faithful who came to see the Pope. The increase in violence in the northwest of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has led to a “great effort by the local authorities to guarantee security” at all events, such as the mass that will be held at the Ndolo airport in Kinshasa, where about a million people are expected, Bruni also pointed out.
The city of Kinshasa, in fact, announced security measures such as the creation of a kind of green area, called “papal jurisdiction”, in the Gombe neighborhood, where the nunciature is located where the Pope will stay and where The total circulation of people will be prohibited if you do not have a special authorization. In total, Jorge Bergoglio will deliver 12 speeches and meet with victims of violence, displaced persons, members of the clergy and representatives of charities.
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In the second part of the trip to Africa (starting Friday), the Pope will visit the youngest country in the world: South Sudan. A clear commitment to overcoming the internal conflict that does not stop. It will be the first time that a pope visits this largely Christian country, where 52% consider themselves Catholic and 9% belong to other Christian denominations. He will travel accompanied by two other religious leaders, Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican Church and the so-called moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Presbyterian Iain Greenshields. For years, the three have jointly promoted the peace process in South Sudan, to end the civil war in various phases that broke out after the coup in December 2013.
South Sudan remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for humanitarian workers. At the beginning of 2023, three aid workers were killed while helping vulnerable people. In 2019, when the number of fatalities had already reached 200,000 people, the Pope summoned the representatives of both factions to the Vatican for a spiritual retreat. That image that many remember was produced there, when the Pontiff kissed the feet of the president and his main rival, imploring them for an agreement to put an end to this tragedy. The country’s stability is based on the difficult coexistence between its president and vice president, Salva Kiir and Riek Machar. Their disagreements, almost always the result of particular interests, have caused all kinds of conflicts in the country. The Pope’s trip will try to soften them. Or at least, put the international media focus there for three days.
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