Pope Francis has planned to make his next apostolic trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan, from January 31 to February 5, 2023. These are two regions where Christians are often the first victims of jihadism and civil war.
The African journey of Peter's successor to the DRC and South Sudan should have taken place in July 2022, but it had been postponed due to the Sovereign Pontiff's health concerns.
In these two countries regularly shaken by violence, the safety of the Pope promises to be a major challenge for the protection services and organizers on site.
The DRC is a country which has approximately 40% Catholics, 35% Protestants and Pentecostals, 9% Muslims and 10% Kimbanguists (sect derived from Christianity) out of a hundred million inhabitants. The country has not seen a pope set foot on its land since the historic visit of John Paul II in 1985, when the country was still called Zaire.
The Pontiff will find a critical situation there. In the east of the country, the security situation is very complex: more than a hundred paramilitary groups operate there, jihadists or mafia, often both, sometimes sponsored from abroad.
Abuses against Christians are commonplace there. On January 15, 2023, an attack perpetrated in a Pentecostal place of worship, and attributed to terrorists from the ADF – Allied Democratic Forces – left 10 victims dead and nearly 40 injured.
The ADF – joined by another self-proclaimed terrorist group Madina at Tauheed Wau Mujahedeen (MTM) – has pledged allegiance to the African branch of the Islamic State (IS) organization which bears the name of ISCAP (Islamic State Central Africa Province) .
In the aftermath of the attack, ISCAP claimed responsibility for the massacre: “Islamic State fighters managed to plant and detonate a bomb inside a Christian church in the town of Kasindi, further evidence failures of recent military campaigns by Congolese forces and their allies to ensure the safety of Christians.”
In the northeast of the country, in the province of Ituri, more than 80 civilians have died since the beginning of January 2023 in a context largely unfavorable to Christians.
On February 3, Pope Francis will fly to Juba, the capital of South Sudan. A predominantly Christian country that became independent in 2011 after breaking away from its Muslim big brother, South Sudan sank into a civil war between 2013 and 2018 causing nearly 400,000 deaths.
Two clans are in opposition, one led by President Salva Kiir, the other by Vice-President Riek Machar, accused of having fomented a coup. Both are Christians, one Catholic and the other Protestant. Despite the signing of a peace agreement in 2018, tensions continue and delays in the timetable for the peace agreement are accumulating.
This will be the 40th visit abroad by Pope Francis since his election in 2013. It is a trip with high diplomatic risk, because if Francis is resolutely committed to a dialogue with Islam, he cannot ignore the fate of tens of millions of Christians persecuted for their faith in the regions he must cross.