Pope Francis’ January visit to DRC brings hope for peace in troubled eastern region

Pope Francis’ January visit to DRC brings hope for peace in troubled eastern region

After another spate of violence in the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), locals are hoping Pope Francis’ planned visit in January will be able to bring some calm to the troubled region.

The 86-year-old pontiff is due to arrive on 31 January after an earlier visit in July 2022 was postponed after he strained his knee and underwent therapy for his strained ligaments.

In recent months, the March 23 (M23) rebel group, which is allegedly backed by neighboring Rwanda, has conquered vast areas in the east and advanced within a few dozen kilometers of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province. At least 131 civilians were massacred in two villages in late November by the M23 rebel group, which is predominantly an ethnic Tutsi rebel group, a preliminary United Nations investigation concluded. The area is rich in mineral resources which have fueled many years of fighting. About half of the DRC’s 96 million people are Catholic.

“By choosing the Congo as the place of his visit … I think he carries the whole country which knows all the difficulties suffered by people in the east,” says Abbé Martin Yamuremye, a parish priest in a small community just outside the city of Goma, where many people displaced by the massacres are sheltering. “The message he brings to us is a message of peace and it is a message that comforts us. We are proud that he is visiting our country,” the priest said, adding that Francis’ visit will bring hope to the whole country.

The pontiff will fly to the capital Kinshasa from Rome to pay a courtesy call to President Tshisekedi and will meet with other government authorities and civil society groups. On the second day of his visit, he will fly to Goma to meet victims of violence and the representatives of charities working with them.

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