Rome (Italy). From 31 January to 5 February 2023, Pope Francis will make his 40th apostolic journey, this time to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. With these two nations, the Holy Father will have visited 60 countries during his Pontificate. He will arrive in the DR Congo 37 years after the visit of Pope John Paul II.
It is a journey marked by peace, dialogue, and reconciliation in a land afflicted by conflicts. The population awaits with hope the arrival of the Pope, who will continue the pilgrimage in South Sudan from an ecumenical perspective, together with the Anglican and Presbyterian Churches, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Jim Wallace.
According to the program, on January 31 Pope Francis will arrive in the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kinshasa, where in the garden of the “Palais de la Nation”, he will meet the President of the Republic, Félix Tshisekedi, and then the authorities, representatives of civilian society, and diplomatic corps.
On 1 February, after the celebration of the Eucharist at the “Ndolo” airport, meetings are scheduled, both at the Apostolic Nunciature, with the victims of the guerrilla warfare in the east of the country and subsequently with the representatives of some charitable organizations operating in the territory. The following day, he will meet the young people and catechists at the “Stadium of the Martyrs” and then go to the “Notre Dame du Congo” Cathedral for prayer with the priests, deacons, consecrated men and women, and seminarians. The day will end with a private meeting with members of the Society of Jesus at the Apostolic Nunciature. On February 3, before leaving by plane for Juba, the capital of South Sudan, he will live his last moments on Congolese soil with the Bishops, at the headquarters of CENCO, the National Episcopal Conference of Congo.
“All reconciled in Jesus Christ” is the motto of the logo of the trip to the DR of the Congo, which contains a great variety of meanings. The Pope in the center, next to the blue cross, represents the devotion of the Congolese people to Our Lady of the Congo. The colors of the flag also stand out, which mark the outline of the country: blue, an expression of the Congolese people’s desire for peace; yellow, which symbolizes the riches of the country, fauna and flora, terrestrial and underground; red, to represent the blood poured out by the martyrs, inside which the mountains are drawn, present in all regions, especially in the eastern part where the volcano is located; the water that represents the hydrographic wealth of the country; the tree that recalls the unique vegetation of this land; and the okapi, half zebra and half giraffe, animal symbol of the DRC, the only country in which it is found and lives in the wild. The three people at the foot of the cross are a symbol of fraternity: men and women, adults and children, united in one man.
In the afternoon of 3 February, the Holy Father will travel to South Sudan, the youngest State in the world, and will devote the rest of the day to a meeting with the President of the Republic, Salva Kiir Mayardit, at the Presidential Palace, and later with the Vice-Presidents of the Republic, with the authorities, civil society, and the diplomatic corps, in the garden of the Palace.
Early in the morning on 4 February the Pope will meet the bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated men and women, and seminarians. This will be followed by a private meeting with members of the Society of Jesus; a public meeting with internally displaced people; and ecumenical prayer in the “John Garang” Mausoleum. At the mausoleum, he will also celebrate Holy Mass on 5 February, before the farewell ceremony and his return to the Vatican.
“I pray that all may be one” is the motto of the apostolic journey to South Sudan, taken from the “priestly prayer of Jesus” in the Gospel of John (Jn 17). In the logo there is a dove with an olive branch, which hovers over the map of the Country in the colors of the flag. The dove represents the desire for peace; the handshake is for the reconciliation of the tribes that constitute one nation; while the cross symbolizes the Christian heritage of the Country and its history of suffering.
It is a long-awaited journey on both sides, by the two populations as well as by the Pope, who on 2 July 2022, the date on which he was supposed to reach them, had expressed encouragement by video message, together with his regret:
“Dear Congolese and South Sudanese friends, at this time words are insufficient to convey to you my closeness and the affection that I feel for you. I want to tell you this: do not let yourselves be robbed of hope! Think, you who are so dear to me, of how much more you are precious and beloved in the eyes of God, who never disappoints those who put their hope in him!
You have a great mission, all of you, beginning with your political leaders: it is that of turning a page in order to blaze new trails, new paths of reconciliation and forgiveness, of serene coexistence and of development. It is a mission that you must take up together. A mission that entails looking to the future, looking to the many young people in your lands, so rich in promise and yet so troubled, in order to offer them a brighter future. The young dream and they deserve to see those dreams come true, to see days of peace. For their sake, above all, it is necessary to lay down arms, to overcome all resentment, and to write new pages of fraternity”.