Tuesday, 28th March 2023

Amid conflict DR Congo gears up for papal visit

In DR Congo's bustling capital Kinshasa, Christian faithful are flocking to impromptu market stalls in churchyards to buy t-shirts and wax tissues adorned with the image of Pope Francis, ahead of the pontiff's arrival on January, 31.

Papal souvenirs have become hot-selling items in the city ahead of the Argentinian pope's four-day trip to the deeply religious central African country.

Many in the Democratic Republic of Congo view the papal visit as a chance to soothe tensions in the east, where M23 rebels have captured swaths of territory since last year and provoked a humanitarian crisis. 

Berthe Baleweya, came to Kinshasa's Notre-Dame du Congo cathedral to buy a Francis-themed wax cloth.

Emmanuelle Wemu, who runs a Catholic aid group, has already bought and tailored her wax print decorated with the pope's face.

"I expect a message of peace from him, in this moment when the DRC is in turmoil," she said.

Over one million worshippers are expected to turn out for an open-air mass in Kinshasa's Ndolo airport on February 1, a sizeable portion in the megacity of over 15 million.

The DRC is a traditionally Catholic nation of over 90 million people.

Conflict in the east

Pope Francis was scheduled to arrive in the DRC last July, but the trip was postponed over health concerns.

Many also speculated that escalating conflict in eastern Congo -- where the pope had been due to visit -- prompted a rethink.

The M23 rebel group, which is allegedly backed by Rwanda, has waged an offensive against the Congolese military and recently come within several miles of Goma, a commercial hub of over a million people and capital of North Kivu province.

Pope Francis is no longer due to go to eastern Congo, according to his new programme, but he will meet victims of the conflict while in Kinshasa.

Some are disappointed. Gelo Mandela, a youth coordinator in the diocese of Goma, said young people were despairing that the city was no longer on the itinerary.

Aid worker Emmanuelle Wemu said she hoped the pope's visit would bring reconciliation with Rwanda.

-Africa News

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