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Pope at Audience: Journey to DRC and South Sudan fulfilled ‘dreams’

Pope Francis dedicates his weekly General Audience to his 40th Apostolic Journey abroad to the African nations of the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, thanking God for being able to fulfill ‘the dream’ of visiting each.

By Deborah Castellano Lubov

Pope Francis dedicated his weekly General Audience to his recently-concluded Apostolic Journey to the African nations of the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, marking his 40th Apostolic Visit abroad, fifth to Africa, and 59th and 60th countries visited since the start of his pontificate.

To the crowds in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall on Wednesday morning, and those following from afar, the Pope expressed gratitude for the long-awaited visit.

“I thank God Who allowed me to make this long-desired trip. Two ‘dreams.’”

The Holy Father expressed joy to have visited the Congolese people, who, he said, are “guardians of an immense country.” 

“A land rich in resources and bloodied by a war,” he said, “that never ends because there are always those who feed the fire.”

The Pope expressed delight to visit the South Sudanese people, while undertaking “a pilgrimage of peace” together with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Moderator General of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields.

“We went together to witness that it is possible and right to collaborate in diversity, especially if one shares faith in Christ,” he said.

Promoting dignity in DR Congo

The Holy Father reflected on his days in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital of Kinshasa, and the messages he made there to protect the precious nation from contention, violence, poverty and exploitation.

“In the face of all this I have said two words: the first is negative: ‘enough!’, stop exploiting Africa! The second is positive: ‘together,’ together with dignity and mutual respect, together in the name of Christ, our hope.”

The Pope recalled the Mass there which brought together some million people, where he brought a message of peace to the joyful crowds.

Recalling the encounter with the victims of violence in the east of the country, Pope Francis recalled the “region that for years has been torn apart by war between armed groups maneuvred by economic and political interests” and where “people live in fear and insecurity, sacrificed on the altar of illicit deals.”

“With them I said ‘no’ to violence, ‘no’ to resignation, ‘yes’ to reconciliation and hope.”

He recalled fondly his time spent with the Congolese youth and catechists, and with priests, deacons, religious, consecrated men and women, and seminarians.

The Pope praised their young and numerous vocations.

“I urged them to be servants of the people as witnesses of Christ’s love, overcoming three temptations: spiritual mediocrity, worldly comfort and superficiality.”

The Pope also remembered sharing the joy and fatigue of pastoral service with the Congolese bishops.

“I invited them to allow themselves to be consoled by God’s closeness and to be prophets for the people, with the power of the Word of God, to be signs like the Lord is, of the attitude the Lord has with us: compassion, closeness, tenderness!!

Ecumenical pilgrimage of peace in South Sudan

The Pope then turned to the second part of the trip that took place in Juba, capital of South Sudan, a state born in 2011, noting the visit had a very special character, expressed by the motto that echoed Jesus’ words: “I pray that they may all be one.”

Reaffirming this visit as an “ecumenical pilgrimage of peace,” the Pope called it “the culmination of a journey that began some years ago, which had seen us meet in Rome in 2019, with the South Sudanese authorities, to make a commitment to overcome the conflict and build peace.”

Unfortunately, he commented, “the reconciliation process has not advanced” and “the newly born South Sudan is a victim of the old logic of power and rivalry, which produces war, violence, refugees and internally displaced persons.”

“Only then can there be development, people can work in peace, the sick can be cured, children can go to school.”

The ecumenical character of the visit to South Sudan, the Holy Father underscored, was particularly evident in the moment of prayer celebrated together with the Anglican brothers and sisters and those of the Church of Scotland.

Church’s closeness

In a reality like South Sudan, this sign is fundamental, and not taken for granted, “because unfortunately there are those who abuse the name of God to justify violence and abuse.”

The Pope recalled that South Sudan is a country of about 11 million inhabitants, of whom, because of armed conflicts, two million are internally displaced, and as many, have fled to neighbouring countries.

For this reason, he said, he wished to meet a large group of IDPs, in order to listen to them and make them feel the Church’s closeness.

Women, the force to transform the country

The Churches and Christian-inspired organisations, the Pope went on to say, are on the front line alongside these poor people, who have been living in IDP camps for years.

The Holy Father also stressed the critical role of women.

“I addressed women, who are the force that can transform the country; and I encouraged everyone to be seeds of a new South Sudan, without violence, reconciled and pacified.”

The Pope also recalled his advice to clergy to be docile to the Holy Spirit, allowing themselves to be molded by Him, and in particular, be compassionate and meek, “detached from our own interests and able to strive even with God, for the good of the people entrusted to us.”

The Holy Father remembered his homily in Juba, where he encouraged the nation’s Christians to be ‘salt and light.’

Pope Francis concluded by recalling that God places His hope not in the great and powerful, but in the small and humble, and that the Lord continues to say this today, to those who trust in Him.

“Let us pray that, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, and throughout Africa, the seeds of his Kingdom of love, justice and peace may germinate.”

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