Correspondent in the Vatican
Even though you don’t like it Pope Francis is putting into practice the forceful medical prescription of using a wheelchair for a few weeks and limit his travels on foot as much as possible, to try to recover from the knee injury and be able to travel to Africa in early July.
This Saturday the Vatican has announced the surprising agenda of the six-day trip that the Pope plans to make, from July 2 to 7, and which includes meetings and ceremonies in some of the most dangerous areas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and South Sudan.
Pope Francis will land on Saturday afternoon, July 2, in Kinsasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of the countries looted by Belgian colonialist policies in the 19th centuryand by the exploitation of natural resources during the 20th and 21st centuries.
That day the Pontiff will meet alone with President Félix Tshisekedi and Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde and will have his first speech before diplomats, politicians and representatives of the country’s culture.
In order not to exhaust him too much, the organizers have arranged that on Sunday, July 3, he will only hold two meetings public, a mass at the Kinsasa airport and a spiritual meeting with nuns and priests in the capital’s cathedral.
Ebola outbreak, militias and chronic violence
On Monday, July 4, he will travel to the North Kivu region, a two-and-a-half hour flight from the capital, one of the most dangerous areas of the country, where the Italian ambassador, Luca Attanasio, was assassinated in April 2021. It’s a militia area with no rules that the exploitation of coltan mines is being combated – precisely this week the Congolese army is acting there to counter the attacks of the rebel militia M23 – and epicenter of the ebola outbreak from 2018-2019.
Pope Francis will hold two delicate meetings there. He will first visit the former Kibumba Refugee Camp, which, in 1994 during the Uganda-Rwanda war, took in millions of Rwandans fleeing the conflict. Years later, internally displaced people from the Democratic Republic of the Congo would escape there. According to UNICEFone in four North Kivus had to flee to similar camps in that period.
A zone without rules, in 2010 numerous humanitarian organizations confirmed the dramatic denunciation launched by the director of the UN Mission in the DRC, that there «rapes and sexual attacks by guerrillas against women from three to eighty years old» had become chronic.
In the afternoon, the Pope will meet with victims of massacres that have taken place in the city of Beni. Between October 2014 and May 2016, more than 500 people were killed in attacks attributed to Islamic radicals in Uganda. Another attack in 2019 killed 25 people. In this area is Tingwe, where in 2020, the ADF (“Allied Democratic Forces”) rebels, accused of some 800 murders, brutally beheaded 25 people.
To South Sudan with other religious leaders
In the second part of the trip to Africa, from July 5 to 7, The Pope will visit the youngest country in the world, South Sudan along with two other religious leaders, Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Anglican Church; and the “moderator” of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Presbyterian Iain Greenshields. An unprecedented scheme, which turns the papal trip into an ecumenical trip.
For years now, the three of them have jointly promoted the peace process in South Sudan, to end the multi-stage civil war that broke out after the coup in December 2013. In 2019, when the death toll is already reached 200 thousand people, the Pope and the Anglican and Presbyterian leaders summoned representatives of both factions, both Christians, to the Vatican for a spiritual retreat. As a final gesture, the Pontiff kissed the feet of the president and his main rivalimploring them to agree to put an end to this tragedy.
During this time, more than two million people have fled to neighboring countries because, although the agreements were signed in 2020, the situation remains extremely delicate. In fact, the main commitments have not been put into practice, especially the entry of the militias into the national army, the division of power and the distribution to exploit resources.
The Pope will arrive in Juba at three in the afternoon on July 5 and will dedicate the first day to the delicate institutional encounters. On Wednesday, July 6, he will go to an “Internally Displaced Persons Camp” in Juba, to show the world the effects of the war in this country. In the afternoon, he will visit the cathedral and take part in an ecumenical prayer vigil for peace, which will take place in the center of the capital, the “John Garang Mausoleum” dedicated to the South Sudanese national hero.
In the same place he will hold a mass mass on Thursday, July 7, before taking the plane back to Rome, where he plans to land at six in the evening.
The symbolic gesture of the Pope, who visits these countries despite the painful knee problem and the difficulties of getting around, will undoubtedly be greatly appreciated by their inhabitants, often victims of acts of extreme violence. But, above all, the presence of the Pope will show the extreme situations they are going throughand it will be an antidote against what the pontiff calls “globalization of indifference” in the West.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism