The World

Poverty, tensions and women, challenges ahead of Pope's visit to Africa

Africa is marked by strong contrasts: great natural wealth and poverty, as is the case in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, countries visited by Pope Francis. Social tensions and violence against women are other challenges in this ecumenical journey of peace, which concludes in South Sudan, land of St. Josephine Bakhita.

Francisco Otamendi-January 30, 2023-Reading time: 4 minutes
pope congo trip

A woman during the homily at a mass at St. Charles Church in Kinshasa in January 2023 ©OSV News photo/Justin Makangara, Reuters

"The Pope's visit For us it represents a grace from God, we feel blessed," Monsignor Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala, Bishop of Tombura-Yambio, in South Sudan, told Omnes a few months ago. "This will be a historic trip; no pontiff has ever crossed our borders before," he added.

In fact, St. John Paul II visited Zaire, today's Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), on two occasions, but did not cross over to South Sudan. Now, Pope Francis will do so, on an ecumenical trip, and he has been inviting for some time now pray for him.

Indeed, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welbywill visit South Sudan with Pope Francis and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Most Reverend Dr. Iain Greenshields, from February 3-5. Archbishop Welby has issued a call to prayer, urging prayers for the people of South Sudan ahead of their historic joint visit, "Our visit is a pilgrimage of peace. We come as servants to amplify the cries of the South Sudanese people," who continue to suffer from conflict, flooding and famine.

Extreme poverty

That a medium dedicated for years to information on Africa, Black World, of the Comboni Missionaries, whose founder, saint Daniel ComboniThe fact that the magazine, a bishop who died in Khartoum (Sudan) in 1881, has dedicated two consecutive front pages in November and December to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is food for thought.

Pope Francis' fifth apostolic journey to Africa is one reason. But in addition, violence against women in African countries - and also in European, American and Asian countries, as is well known - remains at the forefront. And extreme poverty is appalling in countries such as those the Holy Father will now visit, DR Congo and South Sudan, even if they have great mineral wealth.

For example, the coltan used in the manufacture of cell phones is largely extracted in the mines of the Congolese republic, which is also rich in gold, copper or diamonds. However, the Congolese Gross Domestic Product was, in 2021, 494 euros, so it is at the bottom of the table of countries, while the standard of living of its inhabitants is "very low" in relation to the 196 States in the ranking. In South Sudan, the GDP per capita was even lower, 359 euros last year, so its standard of living can be qualified in the same way.

Helping Africa

Prior to the covid, Enrique Bayo, director of Black WorldIn these pages, he stressed that "this is the time to increase collaboration with African countries, and the opportunity to rethink a system that exacerbates inequality between and within countries, degrades the environment and endangers our humanity. Helping Africa is helping ourselves. Everything is interrelated, Francis repeats, let us get rid of the illusion that we can be well off while Africa suffers. To help Africa is to help ourselves," he repeated.

Pope Francis, writes the Comboni publication, "is well aware of the human suffering hidden in statistics such as those of Doctors Without Borders, as he recently stated in an online meeting with young Africans, whom he invited to rebel against this situation of oppression in order to bring about a true liberation of women in Africa."

Hope and optimism

In addition to the aforementioned denunciations, complementary views also stand out recently, such as those of the coordinator of the Studies and Documentation Department at Manos Unidas, Fidele PodgaHe told Omnes that ending hunger is not a utopia, and that "current agricultural production would be enough to feed almost twice the world's population.

On the other hand, the president of the NGDO Harambee, Antonio Hernández DeusThe African woman stands out for her hope and optimism," he said. Education, health, the promotion of women and professional development are the main lines of action of Harambee in Africa, an initiative born of the canonization of St. Josemaría Escrivá.

Nigerian economist Franca OvadjeThe recipient of the Harambee 2022 African Women's Empowerment and Equality Award, said last year at Omnes that, in her opinion, "empowering women to believe in themselves can only be achieved through education".

Saint Josephine Bakhita

The Apostolic Nuncio to the Republic of the Congo, Monsignor Ettore Balestrero, said that the Congolese nation "is a predominantly Christian country, with Catholics representing the largest group. There have been difficult periods, with more or less open persecutions, and there are martyrs among the missionaries and among the natives. This is the case of Beatus Anuarite and Isidore Bakanja, beatified by St. John Paul II, respectively in Kisangani in 1985 and in Rome in 1994.

The patron saint of South Sudan is saint Josephine Bakhita (Darfur, Sudan, 1869 - 1947, Schio, Italy). On October 1, 2000, she was canonized by St. John Paul II, after having been beatified by the same Pope in St. Peter's on May 17, 1992, together with St. Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei.

The feast of this African religious saint, who at the age of nine was kidnapped and then sold into slavery up to six times, is celebrated on February 8.

Since 2015, the universal Church has been celebrating on that day the World Day of Reflection and Prayer against Human Trafficking, promoted by Pope Francis.

Caroline Welby

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, will be accompanied in South Sudan by his wife, Caroline Welby who has visited South Sudan on several occasions, to support the women of the Church in their role as "peacemakers".

Ms. Welby has just stated that the women of South Sudan are "incredible women of strength," many of whom endure the trauma of displacement, sexual violence and the daily fear of abuse in their own communities.

Referring to South Sudanese women, Caroline Welby has said, "Many live with the trauma of displacement in their own country, refugees in other countries, sexual violence and the daily fear of abuse in their own homes and communities. And yet they are also incredible women of strength, praising God and turning to him for and turning to him for comfort. It is a privilege to walk alongside them, and I pray that their example will be in South Sudan and around the world," he said.

The authorFrancisco Otamendi

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