Pope Francis has bid farewell to the Democratic Republic of Congo, marking the end of the first leg of his two-nation 40th Apostolic Journey abroad.
The Pope’s flight departed from the “Ndjili” International Airport in the DRC’s capital of Kinshasa on Friday at 10:49 AM local time.
It was carrying the Pope and more than 70 journalists.
The Holy Father visited the DRC from 31 January to 3 February, following in the footsteps of Pope St. John Paul II, who visited the Central African nation in 1980 and 1985.
In the country, the Pope was warmly received. For his Mass at Ndolo Airport, more than one million people gathered, and the Bishops from the neighbouring countries, which have suffered unspeakable violence and conflict, united around Pope Francis.
The Holy Father urged the nation to forgive others, themselves, and their history, insisting Jesus would enable them to start over, and encouraged them to be “missionaries of peace” and to live out “a great amnesty of the heart.”
The Pope also addressed words for those who call themselves Christians but are engaged in violence, telling them to “lay down the arms, and welcome mercy.”
In the DRC, the Pope paid a courtesy visit to President Felix Tshisekedi, giving a discourse to the country’s authorities, civil society, and diplomatic corps, and also addressed young people, bishops, clergy and religious, consecrated men and women.
He urged young people to dream of a new future, and to resist corruption, hatred and ethnic rivalries.
The Holy Father also listened to the heartwrenching stories of victims of violence in the east of the country, which has been plagued by ethnic and territorial struggles.
Throughout these intense days, Pope Francis constantly expressed his closeness to the poor and exploited, appealing for the turning of a new page.
The Holy Father’s flight will land in South Sudan this afternoon.
At the completion of this Journey on Sunday, marking Pope Francis’ fifth Apostolic Visit to the African continent, he will have visited 60 countries since the start of his pontificate.
In 2015, he went to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic, and in 2017 he visited Egypt. Then, in March 2019, he made an Apostolic Journey to Morocco, and later to Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius in September 2019.
For years, Pope Francis has expressed his strong desire to travel to predominantly-Christian South Sudan, but the unstable situation in the country, along with the pandemic, complicated plans for a visit.
In April 2019, the Pope hosted a spiritual retreat in the Vatican for the political leaders and ecclesiastical authorities of South Sudan.
At the retreat in the Casa Santa Marta, the Pope knelt at their feet and begged them to work for peace and to be worthy fathers of their nation.
The Pope will spend three days in South Sudan on an ecumenical pilgrimage for peace with the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, before returning to the Vatican.
The Pope was forced to postpone this visit to DRC and South Sudan, originally scheduled for July 2022, due to intense knee pain.
At the time, the Holy Father sent the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, to both countries on his behalf, expressing his disappointment to have been unable to make the visit, as well as his great desire to travel to both nations as soon as possible.
Some 20% of the world’s Catholic live on the African continent, and that percentage is increasing.