Pope Francis will visit the Democratic Republic of Congo capital Kinshasa and Goma in the restive eastern province of North Kivu from July 2 to 5. He will, after that, head to Juba, South Sudan, from July 5 to 7.
The announcement of the DRC visit was made by both the Prime Minister and the Catholic Church in Kinshasa on Thursday.
Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde said the pontiff “will have a message of reconciliation and encouragement.”
The visit, he said, “follows an official invitation” from the Congolese government.
“Pope Francis will visit our country 37 years after Pope John Paul II, a historic visit... Our government welcomes this historic announcement. We must all prepare ourselves to welcome this distinguished guest. It will be a moment of great communion,” said the government spokesman Patrick Muyaya. He added, in Swahili, "Karibu kwetu François (welcome here Francis)".
The Pope’s visit will “revive the hope of the Congolese people who need peace, security and well-being”, said Monsignor Marcel Utembi, chairman of Congo’s National Episcopal Conference (Cenco).
The Catholic Church of Congo has called for the mobilisation to welcome the Holy Father. For Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo, the visit is “an invaluable gift to the DRC and the Congolese people who are going through difficult times today”. He called for “a spiritual preparation for this meeting of grace and blessing”.
The last papal visit to Kinshasa was in August 1985, when John Paul II spent two days.
“Since the visit of John Paul II, so many things have happened. There have been wars, the country has experienced many vicissitudes so that the DRC that Pope Francis will know is very different from the country that John Paul II knew,” said Utembi.
Pope’s visit to Juba has been repeatedly delayed over security concerns. He had hoped to go to Juba in 2015 and in 2017.
South Sudan seceded from Sudan in July 2011 but two years later a civil war erupted, causing about 400,000 deaths. The rival groups signed a peace deal, in 2018.
In March 2019, the Pope invited President Salva Kiir and his team to the Vatican in Rome where he urged them to end the conflict.
Francis has visited Africa four times since his election in 2013. He visited Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic in 2015.
In 2017, he went to Egypt and in 2019 he visited Morocco, and later that year Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius.
-Additional reporting by Hellen Githaiga