On his 40th Apostolic trip, Pope Francis will travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo from January 31 to February 3 and then will spend two days in South Sudan, until 5 February. The Pontiff will first travel to Kinshasa, where he will meet with the country’s authorities, victims of the conflict in the eastern part of the country and representatives of civil society and charitable organizations. It is the first time a Pope has travelled to the country in 37 years and as the Order of Malta’s Ambassador to DRC Geoffroy de Liedekerke explains: “The population of the DRC is eager to welcome Pope Francis. In a country where at least 50% of the population is Christian, the welcome reserved for the Holy Father will be matched only by the great legendary hospitality and joy of the Congolese people. According to the latest information, the authorities estimate the number of participants at 3 million. It is a real organizational challenge”.
The Order of Malta has been active in the DRC since the 1980s with diplomatic relations formalized in 1987. These were followed by a humanitarian cooperation agreement signed in 1993 – which is still in force – allowing many religious congregations, dioceses and charitable associations to call on the Order’s embassy to facilitate the import of humanitarian material.
Following the tragic 1994 events in Rwanda, Malteser International – the Order of Malta’s worldwide relief agency –, Order of Malta France and Order of Malta Belgium International arrived in Congo to provide aid to the Rwandan refugees gathered in camps in Eastern Congo, particularly in Bukavu and Goma. Since then, these three entities of the Order of Malta have maintained their presence in the DRC through various humanitarian programs.
“The East of the DRC has, since the events of 1994 in Rwanda, been destabilized. This situation has allowed armed groups to settle there and to perpetrate abuses in the villages and local communities. From its regional office in Bukavu (South Kivu), Malteser International (MI) has implemented numerous humanitarian programs to help the displaced populations and the many victims of sexual violence” says the Ambassador.
At present, MI runs programs from its regional office in Kampala (Uganda) and has just joined a new health programme financed by the European Union. MI was also involved in the screening and the vaccination during the Covid epidemic and also trained an emergency team to fight the Ebola epidemic.
Order of Malta France is involved in providing aid to religious congregations in Bukavu, Central Congo and Kinshasa, where it supports homes for fragile children and girls. Order of Malta Belgium International runs a program to rehabilitate the medical structures of the Idjwi Island (Lake Kivu – South Kivu Province) in the North, the maternity ward of Kihumba and in the South, the hospital of Monvu.
Since 2018, thanks to the support of two private Foundations, the Embassy of the Order of Malta in the DRC has started a rehabilitation program of the King Baudouin Hospital in Kinshasa. The aim of this rehabilitation is to provide quality health care to the very poor population of Masina. On 11 November 2022, the new polyclinic building was inaugurated.
The population of DRC is in need of many things explains Geoffroy de Liedekerke: “To put things in perspective in relation to the decades of conflict in Eastern Congo, it seems that the urgency is for stabilization and a sustainable return to peace. In this respect, for several years now most donors have no longer been financing emergency programs in the east of the DRC, but rather sustainable development programs”.
The Order of Malta is also active in South Sudan which will welcome Pope Francis after his visit in DRC. “The catholic church in South Sudan is very keen to prepare this long-planned visit. The city of Juba has even invested in a new asphalt street, leading to the Nunciature – which is remarkable as only some hundred kilometres of streets and roads in the whole country are asphalt made” says the Ambassador of the Order of Malta to South Sudan Wilhelm von Trott zu Solz.
Since 1996, Malteser International has been working in South Sudan and is committed to improving the living conditions of the South Sudanese. The projects focus on safe access to water, sanitation and adequate nutrition.
Supported by the Embassy of the Order of Malta, Malteser International is also involved in providing aid to IDPs by ensuring improved food and nutrition security, in particular for primary school children, and increased enrolment and retention rates in schools, especially for girls.
The Embassy of the Order of Malta is also pivotal in the importation of goods in the country which has been marred by unrest ever since 2013 when violent confrontations between Government and opposition. Since then, 3.6m Sudanese have fled their homes and villages and the health situation has dramatically worsened.