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A woman listened to the the homily during morning Mass at St. Charles Church in Kinshasa, Congo, Jan. 22. In his homily, Father Abbe Victor Ntambwe, pastor, encouraged parishioners to be sensitive in the electoral process. Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Kinshasa Jan. 31-Feb. 3.
A woman listened to the the homily during morning Mass at St. Charles Church in Kinshasa, Congo, Jan. 22. In his homily, Father Abbe Victor Ntambwe, pastor, encouraged parishioners to be sensitive in the electoral process. Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Kinshasa Jan. 31-Feb. 3.
Photo Credit: Justin Makangara | Reuters

Pope Francis to preach peace amid violence on visit to Africa

Pope Francis will visit Congo and South Sudan on visit Jan. 31-Feb. 5

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ fifth trip to the African continent will highlight gestures of peace and reconciliation, consoling the victims of violence but also emphasizing the importance of each person sowing peace in the family, the neighborhood and the nation.

The pope is scheduled to travel to Kinshasa, Congo, Jan. 31-Feb. 3 before making an ecumenical pilgrimage to Juba, South Sudan, Feb. 3-5 with Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury and the Rev. Iain Greenshields, moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

“It is enough, or it should be enough, that the pope is going to support the peace process; but the fact that he and his colleagues have committed to doing this as a joint visit should be understood to be a spectacular commitment to the peace process itself,” said Chris Trott, the British ambassador to the Holy See and former British envoy to Sudan and South Sudan.

Although the civil wars in both Congo and South Sudan officially have ended, the people continue to suffer from horrific acts of violence, which force the large-scale displacement of communities and keep much of the population in poverty.

Both countries are rich in natural resources, which makes the poverty even more glaring, but also gives the powerful or the disgruntled something else to fight over.

Pope Francis frequently decries the notion that “Africa is to be exploited.” As he told the Comboni Missionaries’ magazine in an interview published Jan. 14, the world’s powerful nations gave Africa “independence halfway: they give them economic independence from the ground up, but they keep the subsoil to exploit,” extracting oil or minerals and paying only a pittance.

The theme of the pope’s visit, “All reconciled in Jesus Christ,” he said, is a call to the Congolese to set aside grudges and unite to end the great suffering of their compatriots who live under the constant threat of violence, particularly in the eastern part of the country.

Pope Francis will stay in Kinshasa, the capital, but his original itinerary for Congo included a day trip east to North Kivu province for Mass and a meeting with the survivors of the conflicts there.

But the violence in North Kivu has flared up again, canceling that part of the papal trip.

In November Bishop Placide Lubamba Ndjibu of Kasongo issued a public appeal to the government to restore order in the East.

People need lasting solutions to the disputes over gold mining in eastern Congo, which, he said, are “sowing a climate of terror and desolation, accompanied by deaths, rapes, school closures, the destruction of food reserves and looting of livestock.”

Looting livestock is a major problem in South Sudan as well and is related to the problem of forcing young women into early marriage, a problem Irish Loreto Sister Orla Treacy has been fighting for decades.

In 2005, six years before South Sudan achieved its independence from Sudan after 50 years of war, Sister Treacy and two other Irish sisters arrived in Rumbek to open a school for girls. The students were accepted only if their parents signed a promise to allow the girls to complete high school and not marry them off in exchange for cattle, which is the most stable currency in the land and the chief sign of wealth.

The visit, Sister Treacy said, can “help to shine a spotlight on South Sudan. We hope that it will generate world interest and also help push our leaders to keep working for peace and development.”

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