Pope Francis heads high-powered Christian leaders delegation to Africa

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Pope Francis.
Pope Francis.
Franco Origlia, Getty Images
  • A first of its kind trip will bring together three leaders of Christian denominations in Africa.
  • The church leaders will visit DRC and South Sudan.
  • They will meet political stakeholders, civil society, and victims of violence.

A high-powered delegation of the heads of the Catholic and Anglican churches as well as the Church of Scotland will travel to Africa next week in what will be a first of its kind visit centred on politics, human rights, and religion.

The three leaders are Pope Francis, 86, of the Catholic Church, Senior Bishop Justin Welby, 67, the ceremonial head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and retired Reverend Iain Greenshields, 68, who is the moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

The trip had been scheduled for last year but was delayed because of the pope's health problems.

The first to arrive on the continent will be Pope Francis, making it his fifth trip to Africa and 40th international trip covering 60 countries.

His stay will be six days in two countries - the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan - where he will be joined by the other two church leaders.

The church leaders will only be in the capital cities because of the dire security situation in the DRC and South Sudan.

According to his diary, the pope will land in Kinshasa, Zaire, next Tuesday and on the same day, he will briefly meet DRC President Felix Tshisekedi in what is marked as a "courtesy visit".

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Thereafter, he will meet DRC officials, diplomats and civic society stationed in the capital.

The following day, the pope will hold a special mass at Ndolo Airport in the morning.

Later, he will meet victims from the conflict in the eastern part of the DRC.

For two decades, the eastern provinces, especially Kivu, have been the epicentre of the conflict.

Currently, rebels, such as the allegedly Rwandan backed M23 and Congolese supported Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, are the major influencers of instability in that part of the country.

The pope will later engage NGOs and charities dealing with the humanitarian crises in the country.

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Before flying to Juba on Friday, he will meet Catholic bishops before a farewell ceremony at Kinshasa International Airport.

On the second part of his Africa tour, the pope would be "making the journey to South Sudan together with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland", the Vatican said in a statement.

The three senior church leaders will pay a courtesy visit to Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit.

Thereafter, there are scheduled meetings with South Sudan's vice presidents. 

There are five vice presidents in the country because of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan signed in 2020 as the country formed a government of national unity.

After engaging political stakeholders, the church leaders will then have a meeting with civil society and the diplomatic corps in the garden of the Presidential Palace.

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The following day, they will engage "bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated persons and seminarians in the Cathedral of Saint Therese", the Vatican said.

Later, there will be a meeting with internally displaced persons. 

Since breaking away from Sudan in 2011, political crises followed resulting in conflict in 2013.

The conflict, in 2014, resulted in 1.3 million internal displacements. To date, displacements are still rife because of ethnic violence.

An estimated 30 000 people from South Sudan's Greater Pibor Administrative Area fled their homes after clashes involving members of the Murle and Nuer communities in December, the UN said in a recent report.

On the last day of the church leaders' visit, a holy mass and farewell ceremony will be held.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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