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PAPAL VISIT: Pope Francis Changes DRC Schedule & Skips Goma; Top Leaders Expected For Kinshasa Mass

Catholic leader Pope Francis has made changes to his initial program which included a stop in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s strife-torn region of Goma, North Kivu on his 40th visit to Africa.

He will arrive Tuesday, January 31, 2023 and leaves Friday, February 3, 2023.

The Holy See Press Office Director Matteo Bruni has announced that there have been changes made to the Pope’s originally planned itinerary in DRC where he was scheduled to visit Goma, in North Kivu, a particularly volatile region. As violence continues to ravage parts of the province with a recent incident of a terrorist attack on a protestant church in Kasindi near Beni killing 17 people, that stop was scrapped.

M23 rebels, widely believed to receive support from Rwanda, have reportedly taken over some areas in the North Kivu region.

“Not because he was fearful for himself”,” Bruni said, but because he wanted to be certain that no one would be at risk of attacks while gathering to see the Pope or celebrating Mass with him.

Information obtained by DRC News Today indicate that former president Joseph Kabila whose wife Olive Lembe is a devot Catholic is expected to attend the event while leading opposition presidential candidate Moise Katumbi, also a devot Catholic, may also show up for Mass in Kinshasa.

Nearly 80% of the Congolese Christian community is Catholic while Africa, according to the Vatican, accounts for 20% of the world’s Catholic live, and that percentage is increasing.

This is the third time the leader of the Catholic Church will visit Congo Pope St. John Paul II who visited the nation in 1980 and 1985.

FULL PROGRAM OF ACTIVITIES THE POPE WILL ENGAGE

Tuesday, January 31

Pope Francis will depart from Rome Fiumicino Airport at 07:55 am (GMT+1) for a trip lasting a little over 7 hours, on a plane chartered by the Italian company ITA Airways. He will land at 3pm at Kinshasa’s “Ndjili” International Airport where a short welcoming ceremony is planned (1).

At 4:30pm. a welcoming ceremony will begin at the “Palais de la Nation,” the official residence of the President of the DRC. He will then meet with President Felix Tshisekedi, who has been in office since January 2019, at 4:45pm.

Pope Francis will give his first speech at 5:30pm, addressing the country’s authorities, the diplomatic corps and the civil society, gathered in the gardens of the “Palais de la Nation.” (2)

The current program does not give any details about the Pope’s evening. The Pope is expected to stay at the Apostolic Nunciature of the country, as is traditionally the case when traveling abroad. The Nunciature is located in northern Kinshasa, just a short distance away from the Congo River, which marks the border with Congo Brazzaville.

Wednesday, February 1

At 9:30am, the Pope will celebrate the first public Mass of his trip and deliver a homily (3). It will take place on the tarmac of the “Ndolo” Airport, in the east of the city, and is expected to gather more than 120,000 faithful, according to the spokesperson for the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) contacted by I.MEDIA.

At 4:30pm, the Pope will meet with victims of the conflicts in the eastern area of the DRC at the Apostolic Nunciature. He will give a speech (4). In the initial schedule of this trip to Africa, planned for July 2022, the pontiff was to fly to the city of Goma, in the far east of the country, to celebrate Mass in a camp for displaced persons and meet with victims of the conflict. For security reasons, this leg of the journey was removed from the program and replaced by this meeting.

In the early evening, at 6:30pm, the Pope will meet with representatives of charity organizations in the DRC at the Nunciature. There the pontiff will give the last speech of the day (5).

Thursday, February 2

At 9:30 am, Francis will meet with young people and catechists in the Martyrs’ Stadium. The Pope will give a speech to an expected crowd of around 80,000 young people. (6)

At 4:30pm, he will meet with the country’s priests, deacons, religious and seminarians for a prayer meeting at the “Notre Dame de Congo” Cathedral, in central Kinshasa (7).

In the early evening, at 6:30pm, he will have a private meeting with the members of the Society of Jesus in the Apostolic Nunciature (8). Pope Francis, a former provincial for the Jesuits in Argentina, has established the tradition of meeting with members of the Society of Jesus whenever he visits a new country. Usually, the exchanges between the pope and the local members appear a few weeks later in the Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica.

Friday, February 3

At 8:30am, the Pope will meet with the 55 bishops of the DRC at the headquarters of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) where he will deliver his last speech in the country. (9)

At 10:10am, he will be expected at Kinshasa’s “Ndjili” International Airport for a short farewell ceremony.

At this airport he will meet the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland so they can travel together to South Sudan. Their plane, chartered by the Italian company ITA Airways, will take off at 10:40am.

CREDIT: Additional Reporting & Images by Aleteia

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