Pope Francis arrives in the Democratic Republic of Congo Tuesday on his first visit to the country with Africa’s largest Catholic population. Francis will be in the DRC, a country struggling with decades of conflict, until Friday, when he goes to the world’s youngest country, South Sudan. Analysts hope for peace in the region.
Pope Francis arrived Tuesday in the DRC capital, Kinshasa, to begin a six-day visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.
The pope brings bring a message of peace and reconciliation to the two countries, which have struggled through years of conflict.
A pastor invited to meet with the pope, who asked to be identified only as Herale, told VOA that he hopes the Pope's message will help end the fighting in the country's east.
He said the Pope is well known both religiously and politically. Congo has numerous problems, squabbles, and conflicts. The pope only needs to say a few words to put an end to the conflict in the east, the pastor says. Francis has the ability to assist the country and bring peace.
The pope meets with Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi, government officials, diplomats, civil society leaders, and victims of conflict from the east.
On Wednesday, the 86-year-old will also hold a public prayer in Kinshasa.
Pope Francis had planned to visit Goma in North Kivu province, but he canceled his visit because of the resurgence of conflict between the M23 rebel group and Congolese forces.
Researcher and political analyst Ntanyoma Rukumbuzi said the pope will remind the world of the ongoing conflict in the DRC.
“Because of security problems affecting civilians in this region, his message was to support and call for attention to atrocities taking place in this region. During his visit, the situation has drastically deteriorated. One can expect his message as it was before would possibly change. He is going to change his tone to emphasize that civilians should be protected,” said Rukumbuzi.
In addition to the chronic unrest in several eastern provinces, the DRC is preparing for an election later this year and the prospect of political violence remains a concern.
Rukumbuzi said the pope will speak out about the political situation and upcoming elections.
“The Pope will talk about the country’s leadership and what to expect from its leaders, and as it has been mostly the stance of the Roman Catholic in DRC it plays a huge role within the political arena, domestic political arena, but they are also among the vocal critic when it comes to the way the Congolese elite manage the country. The Pope will be very clear on this issue,” said Rukumbuzi.
The country's Catholic leadership criticized then-president Joseph Kabila when he postponed elections for more than two years starting in 2016.
The election was finally held in December 2018 and won by the current president, Tshisekedi, in a disputed vote. Tshisekedi’s term ends this year and polls are expected in December.
Pastor Herale said politicians must prioritize the interests of the country.
"Congo is preparing for elections, and politicians are competing for political positions, but security is poor. He's coming to Congo, which is in a lot of trouble, and we hope he'll be able to convince politicians to speak one language and agree to protect the country," he said.
Pope Francis is scheduled to be in Congo until Friday, when he heads to South Sudan.