Pope Francis heads next week to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, his fifth trip to Africa since being elected head of the worldwide Catholic Church in 2013.
The 86-year-old had to postpone the trip last year after suffering knee problems but was determined to reschedule the visit, which will bring to 10 the number of African countries he has visited.
– Kenya, Uganda and Central African Republic –
The Argentine pontiff made his first trip to Africa in November 2015, with a six-day visit to Kenya, Uganda and the troubled Central African Republic (CAR).
He brought with him a message of peace, social justice and dialogue with Islam on a trip that included a visit to a Nairobi slum and a mosque in a flashpoint neighbourhood of the CAR’s capital Bangui.
In CAR, he urged warring factors to lay down their weapons, and hailed Africa as “the continent of hope”.
– Egypt –
In April 2017, Pope Francis paid a two-day visit to Cairo in support of the Coptic minority in Egypt, the largest Christian community in the Middle East that has been subject to numerous deadly attacks.
He also reached out to Islam, visiting Al Azar, the centre of Muslim learning presided over by its grand imam, Ahmed al-Tayeb, one of the Muslim world’s leading religious authorities.
– Morocco –
At the invitation of King Mohammed VI, Francis visited the North African Muslim country of Morocco in March 2019, where he again emphasised the importance of dialogue with Islam.
His trip was marked by calls for religious tolerance, freedom of religion and also respect for the rights of migrants.
At the same time, he also warned the Christian faithful against trying to convert others, preaching “no proselytism” ahead of a mass for thousands of Catholics in Rabat.
– Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius –
In September 2019, the pope visited Mozambique and the Indian Ocean nations of Madagascar and Mauritius, again calling for peace and social justice.
In Madagascar, 30 years after the last papal visit made by John Paul II, he made an impassioned plea for the protection of the island known for its immense diversity of flora and fauna.