Church: Pope Francis left for pilgrimage to Africa

Pope Francis has set out on his pilgrimage to Central and East Africa.

Church: Pope Francis left for pilgrimage to Africa

Pope Francis has set out on his pilgrimage to Central and East Africa. The pontiff's plane took off from Rome on Tuesday morning towards Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Francis will spend the first part of the journey in the metropolis of millions, on Friday he will fly on to Juba, the capital of South Sudan. The head of the Catholics wants to promote peace and a more harmonious coexistence in the two Christian states. Both Congo and South Sudan have recently been rocked by violent incidents, whether at the hands of rebels or rival clans.

Francis forgoes a detour to Goma in the east. Last July - when the trip was originally planned but was canceled due to the 86-year-old's poor health - the Pope wanted to meet victims of violence in the border region with Rwanda. This time, however, the Vatican did not want to take any risks and did not want to give possible assassins any targets through larger crowds. "Then they throw a bomb into the stadium and kill a lot of people," Francis said in a recent interview. The Holy Father is now meeting with victims of violence from the East in Kinshasa.

In Kinshasa, security precautions have been drastically increased, with entire neighborhoods cordoned off because of high-ranking visitors. A highlight of the trip is likely to be a public mass on Wednesday morning at the N'Dolo military airport, to which more than a million believers are expected. At the beginning of his stay in Kinshasa, Pope Francis will meet with Head of State Félix Tshisekedi on Tuesday afternoon.

Can the Pope make the arduous journey?

Pope Francis will travel to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, on Friday. He will be accompanied there by Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of the Anglican Church, and Iain Greenshields, the so-called Moderator of the Church of Scotland.

The Pope is about to make his 40th trip abroad - he has been to Africa four times so far. The Argentinian spends most of his time in a wheelchair due to his knee pain, which is likely to make his visit to muggy Kinshasa and hot Juba even more difficult. On the eve of departure, as always before his travels, he left the Vatican and was driven to the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, where he prayed in front of the statue of Mary for a safe journey.

The six days will show whether Francis is still fit enough for such pilgrimages and intercontinental journeys. In a recent interview, he said that an intestinal disease had returned, for which he had an operation in 2021.