“Joy and deep gratitude are the feelings of the African people after the historic visit of the Holy Father, Pope Francis,” are the words expressed by the Secretary General of SECAM Fr. Rafael Simbine.
Pope Francis travelled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the 31 January and went to South Sudan on 3 February 2023, returning to Rome in Sunday the 5 February. This visit followed the postponement of his Apostolic visit which had had originally been scheduled for the summer of 2022 but postponed to the Holy Father’s ill-health.
Fr. Simbine said Africa is happy and grateful for this 4th apostolic visit of the Holy Father to the continent, adding that through his visit to these two countries Africa experienced unforgettable days with Pope Francis.
The Roman Pontiff arrived in Kisasha on the 31 January to a welcome ceremony at the “Palais de la Nation”. He then paid a courtery visit to the President of the Republic in the Salle Présidentielle of the Palais de la Nation which was later followed by a meeting with authorities, civil society and the diplomatic corps.
In his speech in the gardens of the palace the Pope warned, “Hands off the Democratic Republic of the Congo! Hands off Africa!” saying Africa is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered and it must be let to be the protagonist of its destiny. The pope also spoke about the importance of transparent and credible elections.
Fr. Raphael Simpine in his message of gratitude said Africa is experiencing varied crises which are affecting many levels of existence: political, economic, security and humanitarian. Fr. Simpine noted that Pope Francis came to unite his voice to the millions of Africans quoting the word of the pontiff ‘Hands off Africa! Stop choking Africa, it is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered!’ ‘No more bloodshed, no more conflicts, no more violence.’ He said the Pope was recalling the famous phase of Saint John Paul II, Pope Francis said: ‘African solutions must be found to African problems.’
The Secretary General of SECAM said once again Pope Francis has shown the great love that he has for Africa, “Even though frail, he wanted to come to us as a pilgrim of hope, and to pray with us for peace, justice and reconciliation in Africa.”
On the 1 February the Pope celebrated the Holy Mass at Ndolo Airport where it was reported that over a million people showed up for the Holy Eucharist. The Pope said to the people there that he is there to embrace them and to remind them that they themselves are of inestimable worth, that the Church and the Pope have confidence in them.
Encouraging them he said, “Take heart, my Congolese brothers and sisters! Arise, take once more into your hands, like a pure diamond, all that you are, your dignity and your calling to preserve in harmony and peace this home in which you dwell.”
Fr. Simpine said the joy of African is was great as they heard the Holy Father, after presiding over the Holy Eucharist in the Roman Rite for the Dioceses of Zaire saying: ‘Yours is a Church present in the lived history of this people, deeply rooted in its daily life, and in the forefront of charity. It is a community capable of attracting others, filled with infectious enthusiasm. The Church in Africa (Congo) is a lung that helps the universal Church breathe.’
After the Holy Mass the Pope, later in the afternoon, had a meeting with victims from the eastern part of the country at the Apostolic Nunciature which was later followed by a meeting with representatives from some charities at the same place.
The next day Pope Francis had a meeting with young people and catechists in Martyrs’ Stadium which was then followed by a prayer meeting with priests, deacons, consecrated persons and seminarians in the Cathedral “Notre Dame du Congo”.
Young people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were challenged by Pope Francis to create a new future free from the racial animosity, corruption, and mistrust that have fueled many terrible conflicts in Africa. He was speaking to more than 65,000 young people.
On the 3 February after having 08:30 meeting with bishops at Cenco there was a farewell ceremony at Kinshasa “Ndjili” International Airport where the Pope departed from Kinshasa to Juba in South Sudan.
In South Sudan the Holy Father made courtesy visit to the president of the republic at the Presidential Palace. He also had a meeting with the vice-presidents of the republic and meeting with authorities, civil society and the diplomatic corps in the garden of the Presidential Palace. To the authorities Pope Francis begged that there be, “No more bloodshed, no more conflicts, no more violence and mutual recriminations about who is responsible for it”.
The next day in the morning Pope Francis had a meeting with bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated persons and seminarians in the Cathedral of Saint Therese. In the afternoon there was meeting with internally displaced persons in the “Freedom Hall” followed later by an ecumenical prayer at John Garang Mausoleum.
Pope Francis celebrated the Holy Mass on Sunday 5 February at the same Mausoleum before his farewell ceremony at Juba International Airport before his departure for Rome. He said at Mass to the people of Sudan that Jesus knows their anguish and the hope they bear in their hearts, the joys and struggles that mark their lives, the darkness that assails them and the faith that, like a song in the night, they raise to heaven. ”Jesus knows you and loves you. If we remain in him, we must never fear, because for us too, every cross will turn into a resurrection, every sadness into hope, and every lament into dancing,” reminded the Pope.
The Secretary General of SECAM said the Pope visiting the two African countries where most of the population is Christian and share the same fate of violence and war, taught that: ‘those who would call themselves Christians must choose which side to take. Those who choose Christ choose peace. Those who unleash war and violence betray the Lord and deny his Gospel. What Jesus teaches us is clear: we are to love everyone, since everyone is loved as a child of our common Father in Heaven. The love of Christians is not only for those close to us, but for everyone, for in Jesus each person is our neighbour, our brother or sister.’