Will Pope help silence the guns in DR Congo and South Sudan?

Pope Francis arrives by popemobile for the mass at the N'Dolo Airport in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo

Pope Francis arrives by popemobile for the mass at the N'Dolo Airport in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), on February 1, 2023. 

Photo credit: Tiziana Fabi | AFP

For the war and strife-ravaged populations of the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, the visit by Pope Francis is heaven sent and their hope is that the pontiff gives them a New Year gift of what their own leaders have failed to afford them -- silencing of the guns and lasting peace.

The pope has been on what the Vatican calls a 'Pilgrimage of Peace' in DRC and South Sudan and on Sunday he will be joined by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Dr Iain Greenshields, and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby for a joint ecumenical service in Juba, the first of its kind.

The President of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) Archbishop Marcel Utembi Tapa said as much when he stated that the papal visit would  “strengthen the faith, hope and charity” of the people of God in the central African nation.

“Pope Francis is coming to strengthen the faith, hope and charity of the people of God spread throughout the world, so that all of us may be reconciled in Jesus Christ, to whom we have become brothers and in him, we are members of one family,” Archbishop Utembi was quoted by the Catholic news agency ACI Africa as saying.

The climax of the visit to DRC was a mass in Kinshasa that was attended by one million people according to reports.

It is imperative to note that even as Pope Francis and his congregants were celebrating the holy mass, a not-so-holy war is ravaging DRC, especially the eastern part of the country where an amalgamation of rebels, alleged foreign fighters and the national army have locked horns in deadly combat that does not appear to have an end in sight any time soon. Add into this mix the presence of the United Nations peacekeepers and a regional peacekeeping force then Eastern DRC is a powder keg in every sense of the word.

The perilous situation obtained there when the Vatican cancelled at the last minute a planned visit to the eastern capital city of Goma.

In Kinshasa, the Pope saw firsthand, the reality of the war in DRC when he met with scarred victims. Some of them had their limbs chopped while the women victims spoke of being turned into war slaves by the antagonists in the sporadic wars in eastern DRC that have been on and off since the 1990s.

To these people, Pope Francis might have been the nearest they could get to God and present Him with their petition of a quest for peace. Aimeda Wakarungulu, a former hostage of the rebels, told the Pope that the attackers forced their captives to eat the human flesh of previously killed victims, a news report from the event said.

It added that the survivors of the violence in eastern DRC then laid machetes, knives and other weapons before the Pope with the hope that they will never hear of war and violence in their provinces again.

The Pope’s response that “Peace shall not fall from the sky” was an indictment on the DRC leadership and its adversaries to work together to give their people peace. He also took a swipe at vested foreign interests that were fuelling the war in DRC.

Meanwhile, the war goes on unabated and just last week the East African the Facilitator of the EAC-Led Nairobi Process on the Restoration of

Peace and Stability in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta called for calm and immediate cessation of hostilities.

“The Facilitator remains committed to the course of building peace in eastern DRC and continues to call on regional leaders and the international community to lend their political goodwill and support to the full realization of the EAC-Led Nairobi Peace Process for the Restoration of Peace and Stability in eastern DRC,” he said in a statement.

Over in Juba the historical service bringing together the heads of three churches will be held even as drums of war are being beaten non-stop by some disgruntled military officers quite upset with the leadership of President Salva Kiir.

The three men of the cloth will visit a South Sudan which despite having won its independence from Sudan through blood and sweat, has never known any peace. Despite a 2018 peace deal between Kiir and former rebel leader and now Vice-President Machar, the country has continued to experience widespread violence and ethnic tensions.

 As late as last week, the BBC reported that heavily armed men loyal to a rebel general have been mobilising in numbers in the north, which has recently seen some of the country’s worst ethnic violence. It said the fighters are allied with Gen Johnson Olony, a military commander who opposes the transitional government in South Sudan.

UN peacekeepers have now been deployed to the area where fighting between his forces and government troops has already killed hundreds of people and forced tens of thousands from their homes,  BBC said.

Whether the bloodthirsty fighters from all sides in the two war-scarred African countries will heed to the peace call by Pope Francis and his fellow church leaders is hard to say for now. However, a look at the recent history of both countries leaves even the most hopeless romantic with a depressed feeling.


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