Why Is The Pope In Africa?

On his “pilgrimage of peace” along with the heads of churches of England and Scotland, Pope Francis is on a six-day peace mission in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Not only is the trip aimed at encouraging transformation in terms of violence and poverty within these majority Catholic countries, but at casting a light on two nations which are often forgotten.

In South Sudan, the Pope is encouraging religious leaders “not to remain neutral” but rather, to “speak up against the injustice and abuses of power that oppress”, as reported by the BBC. More specifically, the Pope has emphasized the worsening status and treatment of South Sudanese women. 50% are married before the age of 18, maternal mortality rates are the highest in the world and sexual assault is endemic, according to Al Jazeera. South Sudan was plunged into a civil war in 2011 after gaining independence from Sudan and despite a 2018 peace deal, the country is still plagued by surges of civil violence. 

Meanwhile, in the DRC there is “a moral emergency that cannot be ignored”, according to the Vatican spokesperson. The Pope’s aim is to reinforce the Congolese Churches’ important role in the upcoming election: namely, promoting democracy and monitoring the election process, as reported by CNN. The last time a Pope visited the country, it was still known as Zaire. The DRC faces an ongoing conflict between the Congolese army and rebels over the country’s minerals – of which there are many. As a result, many civilians have been forced to flee the violence, making the DRC one of the “largest populations of displaced people in the world,” as reported by BBC. 

The extent to which the Pope’s message holds any true efficacy remains to be seen, and one may question whether this trip is simply another – if not the highest – form of white, Christian saviourism. Nevertheless, the Pope’s peaceful, rather than demanding and invasive approach to both countries and their people is supported and encouraged. Despite the controversial topic of whether religion should interfere or even engage in politics, especially given the Church’s history with colonialism – to which both South Sudan (part of present-day Sudan at the time) and the DRC were victims – one cannot deny the much-needed attention this peaceful visit has brought to these countries and their dire conditions. This is indeed noteworthy and applauded. 

Whether the Pope’s words and peaceful journey across the two countries have any impact may be hard to measure, however, the possibility that the visit contributes to a turning point in the countries’ future courses should not be prematurely denied.

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