Pope Francis to visit two fragile African nations

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Pope Francis has planned to embark on a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan, two African nations frequently overlooked by the rest of the world, where long-standing conflicts have left millions of refugees and internally displaced people struggling with hunger.

The trip, which will take place from January 31 to February 5, will bring the 86-year-old Pope to areas where Catholics make up nearly half of the population and the Church plays a crucial role in the healthcare, education, and democracy-building efforts.

DRC, which is the second largest country in Africa with a population of around 90 million, will be visited by a Pope for the first time since John Paul II traveled there in 1985. The country, rich in minerals, is also plagued by poverty and conflict.

A previously planned stop in the eastern city of Goma was cancelled due to a resurgence of fighting in the area. The Pope will instead stay in the capital, Kinshasa, where he will meet with victims of violence from the east.

The UN’s World Food Programme reports that 26 million people in the DRC are facing severe hunger, while the country’s 45 million-strong Catholic Church is preparing to monitor elections scheduled for December.

Pope Francis’ visit to South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, will be a historic one, made in an unprecedented manner. He will travel to the capital city of Juba accompanied by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields.

The three leaders represent the Christian makeup of South Sudan, which gained independence from predominantly Muslim Sudan in 2011 after decades of conflict and has a population of about 11 million.

There are approximately 2.2 million internally displaced people and 2.3 million refugees in South Sudan, with the Catholic Church being praised by the United Nations as a “powerful and active force in building peace and reconciliation in conflict-torn regions.”

In one of his most notable acts as Pope, Francis knelt to kiss the feet of South Sudan’s previously warring leaders during a retreat at the Vatican in April 2019, urging them not to return to civil war.

The hope is that the Pope, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland can convince the country’s political leaders to fulfill the promise of the independence movement.

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