Pope Francis is heading to central Africa Tuesday to bring a message of peace to two of the region’s most violence-plagued nations.
The 86-year-old pontiff’s six-day trip will begin in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he will preside at an outdoor Mass at N’dolo airport in the capital, Kinshasa, that is expected to draw more than one million people. At least half of the DRC’s 95 million people are members of the Roman Catholic Church, making it the Church’s largest community in Africa.
But the United Nations says about 5.7 million people are displaced in the DRC due to years of fighting in the North Kivu region between government forces and the armed rebel group M23, as well as attacks by groups affiliated with the militant Islamic State group.
The papal visit is the first to the Democratic Republic of Congo since John Paul II came in 1985. Francis was initially scheduled to travel to the country last July, but was forced to postpone the trip due to his chronic knee ailment. The itinerary for that trip also included a visit to Goma, the capital of North Kivu, but it was scrapped due to security concerns.
The pope will leave the DRC on Friday for South Sudan, where he will be joined by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Right Reverend Ian Greenshields, the moderator, or leader, of the Church of Scotland. The trio will join forces to call for an end to the violence that has plagued the nation since breaking away from Sudan in 2011. A civil war has led to a humanitarian crisis that has left 2 million South Sudanese displaced.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.