ROME — Despite ongoing knee pain and trouble walking, Pope Francis will travel to Congo and South Sudan as planned July 2-7, the Vatican confirmed May 28.
Peace, unity and reconciliation are the chief themes of the trips to both African nations, which are rich in natural resources but have been torn apart by violence not only for political power, but also for control of the resources.
The theme for the Congo visit July 2-5 is “All Reconciled in Jesus Christ,” which emphasizes how more than 95 percent of the nation’s people are Christian, yet sporadic violence continues, especially in the eastern and northeastern parts of the country.
The pope is scheduled to travel east to the North Kivu province to celebrate Mass near the site of the former Kibumba refugee camp, which is where, in February 2021, Italy’s 43-year-old ambassador to Congo, Luca Attanasio, and two others were killed in an ambush while traveling in a U.N. convoy. That evening, the pope will hold a meeting in Goma with the victims of violence.
The visit to South Sudan July 5-7 is an ecumenical pilgrimage, which the pope will be making with Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury and the Rev. Iain Greenshields, who was installed as the moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland May 21.
The three leaders had been trying to schedule the visit since 2016 when South Sudanese Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian leaders visited the pope and archbishop and asked them to go to encourage the peace process. At least 60 percent of South Sudan’s population, including its political leaders, are Christian.
Delays in reaching a peace agreement and in implementing it kept pushing back the timing of the ecumenical leader’s pilgrimage. In April 2019 at the suggestion of Welby, Pope Francis hosted a spiritual retreat at the Vatican with the leaders of all the warring political factions and clans, but despite promises made then, key components of the peace accord signed in 2018 have not been implemented and two rebel groups still are not part of the peace process.
In a statement May 28, Welby said, “We pray that the symbolism of our joint visit will show that reconciliation and forgiveness are possible — and that relationships can be transformed.”
The three leaders will travel “as servants and disciples following the call of Jesus Christ to be peacemakers,” he said. The visit will show “God has not forgotten South Sudan.”
Noting the Church of Scotland’s strong relationship with the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan and its work for peace there, Greenshields said, “There is still much work to do, and the symbolism of this historic ecumenical visit sends out a very strong message about our steadfast commitment to helping the people of this country flourish for the good of all.”
Here is the schedule released by the Vatican May 28; all times are local with Eastern time in parentheses:
Saturday, July 2 (Rome-Kinshasa)
— 9:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m.) Departure by plane from Rome’s Fiumicino airport to Kinshasa.
— 4 p.m. (11 a.m.) Arrival at Kinshasa international airport. Official welcome.
— 5:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m.) Welcome ceremony at the Palais de la Nation.
— 5:45 p.m. (12:45 p.m.) Courtesy visit with the president in the Palais de la Nation.
— 6:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.) Meeting with authorities and members of the diplomatic corps in the garden of the Palais de la Nation. Speech by pope.
— 7:15 p.m. (2:15 p.m.) Private meeting with Jesuits in the apostolic nunciature.
Sunday, July 3 (Kinshasa)
— 8 a.m. (3 a.m.) Mass at Ndolo Airport followed by the recitation of the Angelus. Homily by pope.
— 6 p.m. (1 p.m.) Meeting with bishops, priests, religious and seminarians in Notre Dame du Congo Cathedral. Speech by pope.
Monday, July 4 (Kinshasa-Goma-Kinshasa)
— 6:45 a.m. (1:45 a.m.) Departure by plane to Goma.
— 10:15 a.m. (5:15 a.m.) Arrival at Goma airport.
— Noon (7 a.m.) Mass at Kibumba camp. Homily by pope.
— 5 p.m. (Noon) Meeting with the victims of violence in Beni and the east of Congo at the Goma Diocesan Welcome Center. Speech by pope.
— 6:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.) Departure by plane for Kinshasa.
— 8 p.m. (3 p.m.) Arrival at Kinshasa airport.
Tuesday, July 5 (Kinshasa-Juba)
— 8:40 a.m. (3:40 a.m.) Meeting with young people and catechists in Martyrs’ Stadium in Kinshasa. Address by pope.
— 10:10 a.m. (5:10 a.m.) Farewell ceremony at Kinshasa international airport.
— 10:35 a.m. (5:35 a.m.) Departure for Juba.
— 3 p.m. (9 a.m.) Arrival at Juba international airport and welcome ceremony.
— 3:45 p.m. (9:45 a.m.) Courtesy visit with the president at the Presidential Palace.
— 4:15 p.m. (10:15 p.m.) Meeting with the vice presidents at the Presidential Palace.
— 5 p.m. (11 a.m.) Meeting with authorities, civil society representatives and members of the diplomatic corps in the garden of the Presidential Palace. Speech by pope.
Wednesday, July 6 (Juba)
— 8:45 a.m. (2:45 a.m.) Visit with internally displaced people at the IDP camp in Juba. Speech by pope.
— 11:30 a.m. (5:30 a.m.) Private meeting with Jesuits in the apostolic nunciature.
— 5 p.m. (11 a.m.) Meeting with bishops, priests, religious and seminarians in the Cathedral of St. Theresa. Speech by pope.
— 6:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m.) Ecumenical prayers service at the John Garang Mausoleum. Speech by pope.
Thursday, July 7 (Juba, Rome)
— 8 a.m. (2 a.m.) Mass at the John Garang Mausoleum. Homily by pope.
— 10:45 a.m. (4:45 a.m.) Farewell ceremony at Juba international airport.
— 11:15 a.m. (5:15 a.m.) Departure for Rome.
— 6:05 p.m. (12:05 p.m.) Arrival at Rome’s Fiumicino airport.