Pope begins three-day visit to DRC before travelling on to South Sudan

Francis is the first pope to visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo in nearly 40 years

Pope Francis has begun a three-day trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he is expected to say Mass for hundreds of thousands of people, before he travels on to South Sudan.

He landed on Tuesday afternoon in Kinshasha, the capital of the DRC where a public holiday was declared to mark his arrival. On Wednesday, he will lead Mass at the airport.

Francis is the first pope to visit the DRC in nearly 40 years. The country has a population of roughly 100 million people, nearly half of whom are Catholics.

On Monday, he asked his followers in a tweet to “accompany this journey with their prayers”.


“Tomorrow I will depart on an apostolic journey to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to the Republic of South Sudan. I greet with affection those beloved peoples who await me,” he said.

The 86-year-old pope was originally meant to make the journey in the middle of last year, but postponed the trip because he was having problems with his knee. On Tuesday, he was in a wheelchair upon arrival.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Pastor Iain Greenshields, president of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, will accompany the pontiff on the second part of his trip, to South Sudan on Friday. They are expected to meet president Salva Kiir and other officials, as well as clergy and bishops, representatives of charities and people displaced by violence.

This is the fifth visit by Francis to Africa since he became pope in 2013, and his 40th trip abroad. The African continent has seen the fastest growth in the number of Catholics in recent years, with the figure now at roughly 200 million.

South Sudan – which gained independence in 2011 – has a population of roughly 11 million. The population is predominantly Christian and almost 40 per cent are believed to be Catholic.

Pope Francis has been heavily involved in attempting to bring peace to the country, which experienced a devastating civil war. In 2019, he hosted a retreat for president Salva Kiir, rebel leader Riek Machar, and three other vice-presidents – all Christians – which the Vatican said was a chance for “reflection and prayer” before they were due to set up a unity government together.

Conflict has been raging for decades among dozens of armed groups in eastern DRC, killing millions of people. The violence has recently escalated, preventing a planned stop by Pope Francis there from going ahead.

Though the DRC is rich in minerals, more than 60 per cent of its people were living on less than €2 a day in 2021, according to the World Bank.

Both the DRC and South Sudan are among the six most insecure African countries to live in, according to a new report by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. “Almost 70 per cent of Africa’s population lives in a country where the security and rule of law environment is worse in 2021 than in 2012, mostly driven by a worsening security situation,” the report said.

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports on Africa