VATICAN CITY – Despite ongoing health concerns, Pope Francis appears to be on his way to facing two arduous and long apostolic trips in July – first to Africa with visits to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, then a multi-stop tour of Canada.
The Holy Father is scheduled to travel more than 3,000 miles from Rome to Congo July 2-5, to visit the country’s capital, Kinshasa, and then another 1,000 miles to Goma, the capital of the eastern North Kivu region in Congo where the fighting was the most intense in the country in 2008-2018. There was a civil war.
His visit to Africa’s second largest country is expected to be one of peace and reconciliation after decades of political and social turmoil. The eastern part of the country is home to numerous armed groups that have seen seemingly endless bloodshed for nearly 30 years, fueled by a complex web of ethnic conflicts, political instability and the battle for Congo’s rich mineral resources.
Tens of thousands of Congolese have been displaced, making them one of the largest refugee concentrations alongside Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Ukraine – a fact that is rarely mentioned in the global media.
The violence in eastern Congo prompted President Felix Tshisekedi to impose martial law a year ago in two eastern provinces, including North Kivu. The restrictions, dubbed the “Law of Siege”, have since been extended 22 times, but the violence has continued to fester.
In February 2021, Italy’s ambassador to the country, his bodyguard and his driver were killed in an attack as they were traveling in a World Food Program convoy through the region. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is seen as home to the world’s deadliest conflict since World War Two, and next year’s elections are expected to escalate the violence even more.
The country’s apostolic ambassador, Archbishop Ettore Palestero, said the Pope’s visit aims to promote reconciliation for all.
“The Pope does not come only for Catholics. He comes for everyone. He wants to see everyone,” said Archbishop Palestrero at a meeting between the Congolese Conference of Bishops and the Congolese government at the end of March. That is why we are committed to preparing well for the event. … The Pope comes to lead us to Jesus and invites everyone to reconciliation.”
From the Congo, the Pope will fly 1,000 miles across Africa to South Sudan from July 5-7 where he will visit the capital, Juba. The trip comes after the brutal civil war that followed independence in 2013-2018 that claimed 400,000 lives, and continued hunger and bloody clashes in parts of the country.
After South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011, the new head of state, Salva Kiir, accused then-Vice President Riek Machar of plotting to oust him, sparking a violent civil war that led to violent clashes between ethnic groups, political instability, and countless human rights violations. . famine and structural collapse.
The 2018 peace deal ended the worst violence in the five-year civil war, but several issues remain unresolved, such as failed attempts to reunite the national army – an issue analysts say could plunge the country once again. full-scale conflict.
The Pope has long announced his desire to visit the predominantly Christian country. In a dramatic gesture in 2019, he got on his knees to kiss the feet of South Sudan’s formerly warring leaders and urged them not to return to civil war. But his hopes of visiting have always been dashed, either due to internal instability or COVID restrictions.
“Pope Francis is very serious about reconciliation in order for justice to prevail,” Archbishop Hubertus Matthews Maria van Meijen, the papal ambassador to South Sudan, told AMECEA online last month. “I think he intends to be that bridge between the conflicting parties in South Sudan to bring people together.”
He will travel with the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Principal of the Church of Scotland, Jim Wallace, on a visit also aimed at promoting peace and reconciliation. In a joint statement with Welby and Wallace, the Pope wrote that the visit would be a “journey of peace” and urged the country’s leaders to follow the “path of tolerance and freedom.”
Archbishop Van Meijn stressed that “South Sudan is not only for the Catholic Church but also for a number of other churches that play an important role not only among the people but also at the level of government.” The ambassador added that the presence of Welby and Wallace with the Pope would thus be “a true example of the ecumenical movement in the Church.”
After visiting South Sudan, Pope Francis will spend just over two weeks in the Vatican before departing again, this time on a six-day visit to Canada. The apostolic journey would begin with a flight of 5,000 miles to Edmonton in western Canada, then another 2,000 miles to Quebec City in the east, and finally 1,000 miles north to Iqaluit, a town on Baffin Island just 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle. .
The Vatican has yet to announce the details of the visit, but it comes after the Pope held several meetings at the Vatican in April with Indigenous Canadian delegations. The meetings provided an opportunity for the Pope to hear from members of these communities after the discovery last year of unidentified graves at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, with the bodies of hundreds of Aboriginal residents.
The boarding schools, run by Christian denominations and primarily the Catholic Church on behalf of the Canadian government between 1880 and 1996, were intended to educate and accommodate Aboriginal children. According to Reuters, 150,000 children were sent to schools, where they were deprived of their mother tongue and culture. Many were subjected to physical, emotional and sexual abuse in what the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission called in 2015 a “cultural genocide”.
The Pope joined Canada’s bishops in offering a blanket apology to the indigenous population, speaking of his indignation and shame over the “unfortunate behavior of members of the Catholic Church” in schools. He also made it clear that he would like to meet the indigenous people again by visiting Canada.
Edmonton is home to the second largest number of Indigenous people living in Canadian cities, and the province of Alberta where Edmonton is located was home to the most residential schools in Canada – 25 in total. Iqaluit has the largest indigenous Inuit population of all Canadian cities, numbering 3,900 in total, while Quebec City is home to Sainte-Anne-de-Beauper, one of the oldest and most popular pilgrimage sites in North America. Many Aboriginals and Catholics throughout Canada and around the world visit the Mausoleum of Sainte-Anne-de-Baubery every year.
All three of these apostolic trips are extensive, raising questions about whether the 85-year-old pontiff, who is currently confined to a wheelchair due to what Vatican sources say is a “broken knee,” would be in a fit enough condition to take them. With them. The Pope’s health has been in question since last July when he underwent major surgery to remove a large portion of his colon. For several years, he also suffered from sciatica.
“What’s really driving this [visit] “The Pope’s limited ability to get around,” Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton told reporters May 13. Any car over an hour, can’t be in a different place every night.”
Sources familiar with the situation told The Register last week that Francis will soon have surgery on his knee, with doctors saying that painkillers or “sneak”, a treatment that provides pain relief, will not be effective in the long term. But sources say Francis’ doctor is on standby pending the Pope’s personal decision to perform the surgery.
Vatican correspondent Franca Giansoldati, writing in Prophet On May 24, he wrote that Francis was reluctant to undergo surgery, and this week told the Italian bishops that the last time he underwent the knife to resolve a colon problem last year, he experienced difficulties after general anaesthesia.
“Therefore, he now wishes to avoid ending up in the operating room again,” Giansoldati wrote, adding that he hopes to do so through “massive infiltrations” and “respect the advice of orthopedic surgeons to use a wheelchair for his daily chores.” Life in Santa Marta “. Giansoldati noted that he also uses a cane with a tripod to make it as stable as possible.
Some underestimate the Pope’s medical concerns: His old friend, Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez of La Plata, Argentina, said May 14 after seeing the Pope that Francis “has more than two hours of [daily] Rehabilitation of his ‘knee’ leading to ‘but that’ results for everything else, it’s better than ever. “
But multiple sources in the Vatican told the record that the pope made an unannounced visit to Rome’s Gemelli Hospital two weeks ago where he underwent an MRI scan that was then repeated at Villa Stewart, a private hospital in Rome that specializes in orthopedics.
The record asked the Holy See’s press office if the symptoms were a sign of something more serious, but it did not respond.
What is clear, however, is that the Pope’s health has deteriorated over the past two years — not surprising, given his advanced age. The record has confirmed through multiple sources that he is now traveling with two nurses from the Vatican, Massiliano Strapetti and Andrea Rinaldi, while he had not previously requested this medical presence. A Vatican source said Strapetti, who was credited by the Pope last year with saving his life, now shares meals with him daily and has a room at the Pope’s home in Santa Marta.
The same source believes that the ambitious travel schedule for July is in doubt, and that the Pope may have to cancel his trips, as he has already done with regard to his planned trip to Lebanon in June.
But speaking at the end of March, Archbishop van Meijn thought the pope was eager to make the visits because this might be his last chance. “He is able to travel now, and if he waits any longer, he will not be able to do that kind of travel,” the ambassador said, adding that while his physical health is a “challenge,” the Pope “is willing to do it. He is willing to sacrifice his health.” for this travel.