Pope Francis will be in the Democratic Republic of Congo this year, between 2 and 5 July. During a visit to the international headquarters of ACN, in Germany, Bishop Timothée Bodika Manyisai, of Kikwit, in midwestern DR Congo, spoke about how Catholics are preparing for the Pope’s visit.
During his last Ad Limina visit to Rome, in 2014, when Bishop Bodika was still an auxiliary in Kinshasa, DR Congo’s episcopate invited Pope Francis to visit their country. “The Holy Father replied: ‘Yes, one day I will go’. Finally, that moment has come”, he says.
The previous papal visits were by John Paul II in 1980 and in 1985. Thirty-seven years later, a successor of Peter will once again set foot in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “When news of the Pope’s visit was made public, we were thrilled. This is Saint Peter coming to us. He comes as a shepherd, to confirm us in the faith, and we feel very blessed by his visit”, says Bishop Bodika.
For Catholics this is a moment of great joy, and there is much curiosity, especially for those who do not know the Pope. In the run-up to the visit, the bishops are highlighting the spiritual dimension and want the population to understand that the Holy Father is the successor of Peter, who has come to confirm his people in the faith. “With this in mind, we have been reciting the prayer of preparation for the Holy Father’s visit at the end of each Mass”, explains Bishop Bodika, who has been in charge of the Diocese of Kikwit since 2016.
Due to the many and complex conflicts and difficulties that have afflicted the second largest country in Africa, both at a political and social level, Pope Francis’ main message is expected to be one of reconciliation. “The Pope is coming to tell us: ‘People of Congo, be reconciled!’. The DCR is an enormous and very rich country, but there is widespread suffering in society. The Pope is coming to us during a very troubled time in the life of our country. For example, he will be in Goma, where there is much tension, there are armed groups that spread terror for selfish reasons, even though it is the richest part of the country”, the bishop says.
However, despite all the problems in the country, the Congolese also have something to offer the Universal Church, says Bishop Bodika. “In the Democratic Republic of Congo, we have been working very hard to give more prominence to the laity in the Church, according to the Second Vatican Council. I would tell the Pope: “Holy Father, I am the chairman of the Bishops’ Commission for the Laity. See, there are the laypeople. See the youth”, adds the bishop enthusiastically.
Since 2017, ACN has funded the formation of young seminarians, as well as the permanent formation of their teachers, in the Diocese of Kikwit, with over 38 thousand euros.