31 January 2023
Pope Francis started a six-day trip to Africa on Tuesday.
The leader of the Roman Catholic Church is visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. He was supposed to visit last summer, but postponed the trip because of ongoing problems with his legs.
Those who helped organize the trip said they hope the Pope's visit will bring international attention to the conflicts in both countries.
Francis spoke with the Associated Press last week. "Yes, Africa is in turmoil," he said.
There is fighting in the eastern part of Congo. Government soldiers are fighting rebels and groups linked to the Islamic State. The Pope was supposed to go to the city of Goma to meet with a group from the area. But, the meeting site has been changed to Kinshasa, the capital.
Catholicism is growing in Africa. The religion is most common in Congo where followers make up half of the population. The country is home to thousands of Catholic clergy and other workers.
The Pope has visited Africa four other times in his 10 years as Church leader.
"We need to listen to their culture: dialogue, learn, talk, promote," Francis said.
The main event is Wednesday, when the Pope will lead a religious ceremony called a mass at Ndolo airport. About 2 million people are expected.
People from all over the country were coming to Kinshasa for the event. One man said he walked 45 minutes to the airport to see the Pope's arrival.
Jean-Louis Mopina said the Pope is like "a pilgrim sent by God."
President Felix Tshisekedi met with diplomats who came to Congo for Pope Francis' visit. The Congolese leader said the visit shows that the Vatican is concerned with the "acts of violence and intolerance that you are witnessing" in the eastern part of Congo. The World Food Program said the fighting has displaced 5.7 million people in recent years.
The local director of an Italian-based aid group said he hoped the Pope's visit "can bring a message of peace."
The second part of the Pope's trip will mark his first visit South Sudan, the world's youngest country. South Sudan is a majority Christian country where fighting has continued even after a 2018 peace plan to end a civil war.
There, the Pope will be joined by top Christian religious leaders from England and Scotland. The three are seeking to show united Christian support in helping South Sudan carry out the plan.
Paolo Impagliazzo is the leader of a group working on putting parts of the 2018 peace deal into place. He said one part – putting together an army made of government and opposition soldiers – has been "painfully slow."
He said the visit from the Pope and the other leaders "will bring hope to the people" and "strengthen the churches ... that are playing a critical role in bringing about peace and dialogue in South Sudan."
I'm Caty Weaver.
Dan Friedell adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on a report by the Associated Press.
Words in This Story
turmoil –n. disorganization, fighting
dialogue –n. speaking between two or more groups or people
promote –v. to speak positively about an idea
pilgrim –n. a religious traveler
intolerance –n. a lack of understanding or appreciation for an idea