After another spate of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s east, locals are hoping Pope Francis’ visit in January will be able to bring some calm to the troubled region.
The 86-year-old pontiff is due to arrive on January 31st after an earlier visit in July 2022 was postponed after he strained his knee and underwent therapy for his strained ligaments.
In recent months the M23 rebel group, which is backed by neighbouring Rwanda, has conquered vast areas in the east and advanced within a few dozen kilometres of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.
According to a preliminary United Nations investigation, at least 131 civilians were massacred in the villages of Kishishe and Bambo on November 29th and 30th by the March 23 rebel group, which is predominantly an ethnic Tutsi rebel group.
The area is rich in mineral resources which have fuelled many years of fighting.
Abbé Martin Yuremye, a parish priest in Kanyaruchinya, which is just outside the city of Goma and is where many people displaced by the massacres are sheltering, said Francis’ visit will bring hope to the whole country.
“By choosing the Congo as the place of his visit, I think he carries us, the whole country, especially the east that he had wanted to visit,” Abbé Martin Yamuremye, the parish priest of Saint Thérèse of the Child of Jesus said.
“By visiting Kinshasa, I think he carries the whole country which knows all the difficulties suffered by people in the east. Therefore, the message he brings to us is a message of peace and it is a message that comforts us. We are proud that he is visiting our country,” Yamuremye added.
Pope Francis will fly to the capital Kinshasa from Rome to pay a courtesy call to President Tshisekedi and will meet with other government authorities and civil society groups.
The next day, February 1st, he will fly to Goma to meet victims of violence and the representatives of charities working with them.
About half of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s 96 million people are Catholic.