Pope Francis has departed on his 40th Apostolic Journey abroad to the African nations of South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The ITA-Airways papal flight left Rome’s Fiumicino International Airport at 8:29 AM local time Tuesday morning, carrying the Pope and more than 70 journalists. The flight is scheduled to arrive at “Ndjili” International Airport in the DRC’s capital of Kinshasa at 3 PM local time.
Closeness to migrants, refugees, and the fallen
This morning, before leaving his residence, Casa Santa Marta, and heading to the airport, Pope Francis met with about ten migrants and refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, who are welcomed and supported, with their families, by the Centro Astalli. With them was the Prefect of the Dicastery for Charity, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski.
Upon arriving at the airport, the Pope’s car stopped briefly near the Monument to the Fallen of Kindu, the 13 Italian airmen killed in Congo on 11 November 1961.
The Holy Father dedicated a prayer to the victims of that bloody massacre and to all those who lost their lives participating in humanitarian and peace missions, before he proceeded in the direction of the plane that will take him to Africa.
When the Holy Father will land in Kinshasa, there will be a welcoming ceremony for him.
The Pope will next pay a courtesy visit to President Felix Tshisekedi, and address the country’s authorities, civil society, and diplomatic corps.
At the completion of this Journey on Sunday, marking the Pope Francis’ fifth visit to Africa, he will have visited 60 countries since the start of his pontificate.
In 2015, he went to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic, and in 2017 visited Egypt. Then, in March 2019, he made an Apostolic Journey to Morocco, and later to Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius in September 2019.
The Pope was forced to postpone this visit to DRC and South Sudan, originally scheduled for July 2022, due to intense knee pain.
At the time, the Holy Father sent the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, to both countries on his behalf, expressing his disappointment to have been unable to make the trip, as well as his great desire to travel to both nations as soon as possible.
For years, Pope Francis has expressed his strong desire to travel to predominantly-Christian South Sudan, but the unstable situation in the country, along with the pandemic, complicated plans for a visit.
In April 2019, the Pope hosted a spiritual retreat in the Vatican for the political leaders and ecclesiastical authorities of South Sudan.
At the retreat in the Casa Santa Marta, the Pope knelt at their feet and begged them to work for peace and to be worthy fathers of their nation.
The Holy Father will first visit the Democratic Republic of Congo, from 31 January to 3 February.
Pope Francis is traveling to DR Congo in the footsteps of Pope St. John Paul II, who visited the nation in 1980 and 1985.
The Pope will then spend three days in South Sudan on an ecumenical pilgrimage for peace with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland before returning to the Vatican.
Some 20% of the world’s Catholic live on the African continent, and that percentage is increasing.