On the eve of his departure for his 40th Apostolic Journey abroad, Pope Francis paid a visit to the Roman Basilica of Saint Mary Major to entrust his visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo and to South Sudan to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
According to a statement by the Holy See Press Office, the Holy Father spent some time in prayer before the icon of Maria Salus Populi Romani.
Pope Francis is set to depart from Rome on Tuesday morning on a six-day Apostolic Journey.
This will be the first visit of a Pope to the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1985, when John Paul II travelled to the nation, known then as Zaire. The second leg of the journey will be the first-ever papal visit to South Sudan.
The Pope is visiting the people of these African countries as a “pilgrim of peace,” carrying with him a message of reconciliation and hope.
In a letter addressed to the populations of both countries prior to his departure, Pope Francis noted the DRC “suffers from armed clashes and exploitation”, especially in the east of the country, and that South Sudan, has been “wracked by years of war” and “longs for an end to the constant violence that forces many people to be displaced and to live in conditions of great hardship.”
The first leg of the visit will take the Pope to the Democratic Republic of Congo from 31 January to 3 February.
Then, on Friday, he travels to South Sudan until 5 February for a visit which seeks to help restore hope in the world’s youngest nation.