Pope Francis Meets Bishops Of Episcopal Conference Of Congo

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Pope Francis has met with bishops of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo before leaving for South Sudan.

In Kinshasa, the capital of Africa’s largest Catholic country, the pontiff condemned the deadly violence in the east, called on leaders to put an end to corruption and on young people to be “actors” in the country’s future.

After a final address to the bishops Friday, he departed for a “pilgrimage of peace” to Christian-majority South Sudan, the world’s youngest state, devastated by a bloody civil war and one of the poorest in the world.

In Juba, the 86-year-old Pope will be accompanied by the heads of the Churches of England and Scotland, representatives of the two other Christian denominations in this country of 12 million inhabitants.

The three church leaders have been personally involved in the peace process, despite leaders turning a deaf ear to calls for reconciliation and sides being accused of war crimes.

After decades of fighting with Sudan and two years after independence, the country plunged into a bloody five-year civil war between Salva Kiir and Riek Machar in 2013 that killed some 380,000 people, displaced millions and left the economy in tatters.

And despite a peace agreement in 2018, the violence continues, fuelled by political elites. The church plays a surrogate role in areas without any government services and where humanitarians are often attacked or even killed.

In 2019, a year after a peace agreement, Francis received the two enemy brothers at the Vatican and knelt down to kiss their feet, begging them to make peace, a strong symbolic gesture that left its mark.

– Public holiday –

Throughout the streets of the capital, the logo of this visit adorns billboards, clothes and banners. The roads were freshly tarmacked, a rarity in this city of dusty streets where stray goats shelter under cars from the hot sun.

Expected at 3pm (1300 GMT), the Argentine Jesuit will pay a courtesy call on the president and vice-presidents and then give a first speech at the presidential palace to the authorities and diplomatic corps.

On Saturday, he will meet with Catholic religious and internally displaced persons and will celebrate an ecumenical prayer, before presiding over a mass on Sunday.

Hundreds of people have flocked to Juba from the rest of the country and beyond. Some 60 young pilgrims have even walked 400km – some in sandals – along the country’s trails preaching unity in a country with more than 60 ethnic groups.

“The message we hope to send to the people is that we should be one and make peace with each other,” 20-year-old student Tafisa Chol told AFP.

Some 5,000 extra police and soldiers were deployed on the streets, security officials said, while Friday was declared a public holiday in the country.

The papal trip, which was scheduled for July 2022 and then postponed, has so far been marked by a strong call from Francis for an end to the “cruel atrocities” in eastern DRC and to the corruption that is confiscating the wealth of this huge African country.

This is the 40th international trip of the head of the Catholic Church since his election in 2013, the third to sub-Saharan Africa.

 

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