“I’ve been waiting a year for this trip,” said the head of the Catholics on the plane to the journalists traveling with him. The visit was actually planned for summer 2022. But it was postponed because of the knee problems of the now 86-year-old. Even now, Francis is likely to move around largely in a wheelchair during the six days of his stay in Africa.
Upon arrival, the Pope will be received by President Felix Tshisekedi and address politicians and civil society representatives from the country, which is plagued by extreme poverty. In the evening, tens of thousands are expected to attend a prayer service at Ndolo Airport and on Wednesday there is an open-air mass on the program, to which around a million people are expected.
Upon his arrival, Pope Francis was greeted by Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde (centre right).
Pope wants to pray for peace
For the Argentine, it is the 40th trip abroad since his appointment and the fifth that takes him to the African continent. During his visit, Francis wants to pray for peace in the two crisis-ridden countries and address issues such as deforestation and global warming.
With 100 million inhabitants, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the largest Catholic country in Africa. It has been rocked by violent clashes between armed groups and the army for years. Despite rich deposits of raw materials, two-thirds of the population live on less than $2.15 a day.
Francis had said several times that he would have liked to visit the North Kivu region in eastern Congo, but was unable to go there because of the war. The pontiff originally wanted to meet with victims of the ongoing conflict in the provincial capital of Goma on the border with Rwanda. For security reasons, the match will now take place in Kinshasa on Wednesday.
On Friday, Francis travels to Juba in Juba, South Sudan. In South Sudan he will be accompanied by the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Anglican Church, and Iain Greenshields, the so-called moderator of the Church of Scotland.
Meeting with displaced persons
During his stay in the two countries, Francis also wants to meet with displaced people. Refugees have always been a major concern for the Argentine. The morning before departure, he met a group of people in Rome who had fled Congo and South Sudan.
As Francis and his delegation flew over the Sahara desert en route from Rome to Kinshasa, the pontiff asked for a prayer for those who “crossed the desert in search of some prosperity and freedom” and “didn’t make it”.
He also recalled those who had fled to the Mediterranean, “but were put in camps there and suffered”. The Pope repeatedly criticizes that migrants in North African countries – especially in Libya – are held in camps.
uh/kle (dpa, afp, kna)