ROME - Pope Francis invited Catholics and members of all other religions Friday to observe a day of prayer, fasting and initiatives for peace, dedicated in particular to South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The pope's call for a rejection of violence and conflict comes as the Catholic charity, Caritas, warns of a major humanitarian emergency in the DRC.
The pope said that while prayer is always an effective resolution, more can be done.
Francis said each person "can concretely say 'no' to violence to the extent that it depends on him or herself because victories obtained with violence are false victories, while working for peace does good for all."
Hundreds of Congolese and South Sudanese answered the pope's call Friday by attending special masses both at home and abroad. Pope Francis planned to visit South Sudan and the DRC last year, but was forced to postpone his trip due to ongoing conflict.
South Sudan's conflict began in 2013 as a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, who was Kiir's deputy. The war has driven 2 million people from the country and left more than a million others a step away from famine, according to the United Nations.
The situation in both countries has deteriorated with increasing violence. Caritas predicts that 2.2 million children in the DRC will suffer from severe acute malnutrition this year, and 13.1 million people will need aid in order to survive.
"The U.N. are not able to gather enough resources to be able to face the immediate problems of these people who are dying of lack of food, who are dying of lack of medicine," said Michel Roy, secretary general of Caritas Internationalis. "The situation is really a terrible one."
In addition, elections are not being held due to the violence and existing insecurity, but Roy says this is the status quo that those in power want to maintain.
And, he says, the international community is not doing its part either.
"It seems it's not in the interest of major powers that peace comes back to the Congo. The international powers are not engaging mainly for economic reasons. Congo is very rich in natural resources of all kinds," Roy said.
The solution to the DRC's current situation, according to Roy, is political; however, there appears to be a lack of will to change things. He adds the country has only plunged into greater uncertainty since President Joseph Kabila refused to step down when Kabila's constitutional mandate expired in 2016.
"We know what the solution is," Roy said. "The solution is dialogue that will bring new elections and peace."
Congolese bishops have repeatedly appealed to the international community to aid the political process and urged non-violent resistance at home. Using strong language, the country's bishops recently called on the entire population to take control of its own destiny by peaceful means.