Pope Francis has called on Christians to set aside February 23 2018 as a Day of Prayer and Fasting for South Sudan and Congo DR
In an address on Sunday 4 February, the Pope said that he had called the day to pray for “the tragic protracted situations of conflict in different parts of the world,” specifically for the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.
“I also invite non-Catholic and non-Christian brothers and sisters to join us in this initiative in whatever ways they deem most appropriate,” said Pope Francis.
He drew a parallel with a a difficult situation Jesus faced as recounted in the Gospel of Matthew (17:21) where his disciples were unable to cast out a demon. Such situations required focussed prayers and fasting, explained the Pope.
The Pope, had called for a similar prayer for the two embattled nations in November 2017, which he led at St Peter’s, in Rome.
Catholic Bishops had brokered a peaceful transition to an election in December 2017 after President Joseph Kabila’s 17 years rule and the tenure expired in December 2016, but he refused to step down, sending the country into a conflict.
The Bishops and civil rights leaders called out the significant Catholic population in protests to pressure Kabila to respect the signed agreement to leave but the protests led to the killing of about 10 people and the arrest of some priests.
Years of misrule and weakened economy of the mineral rich country, in addition to sectarian conflicts has turned the country into a killing field and the world’s biggest ‘rape country’ where women have been targeted and rape is a weapon of war.
Democratic Republic of Congo has the highest number of refugees in Africa with over 10 per cent of the 7.7 million people facing starvation.
A planned visit by Pope Francis was cancelled due to the unrest.
“The pope wanted to come. The Holy See has made clear to the Congolese authorities that his visit is conditioned on the organisation of the elections which are established by its constitution,” Argentinian Archbishop Luis Mariano Montemayor, the Vatican ambassador to the DRC, said last year.
The second country to be prayed for is South Sudan, the world’s youngest country where in 2013 President Salva Kiir from the Dinka tribe, sacked his Vice-President Riek Machar from the Nuer tribe. This act drove Machar, who many believed is better qualified to rule, into forming a rebel army and plunged the country into a civil war. A signed peace arrangement lasted about three months in 2016 and the country plunged into another war.
Another attempt at getting a peace agreement is underway in Ethiopia this week.