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Issues to ponder as Pope prepares for Africa visit


By Amílcar Sanatan

CCSJ Board member

Pope Francis has a planned visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan (January 31–February 5). During this trip, he will be in direct contact with one of the fast-growing regions of believers for the Church. There are 236 million Africans in the Catholic Church’s 1.36 billion family.

Multiple factors have spotlighted Africa in the Pope’s travel arrangements. Primarily, the Pope is extending his global campaign on the “synod on synodality”. Listening to the Church and the people of Africa, especially the youth and socially excluded, is a key strategy to the Pope’s approach to his reforms.

Further, the ongoing efforts of the Church in the mediation of conflict, improve the socioeconomic well-being of the poor and life changes are equally important to the Pope. Why visit the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan? These nations continue to grapple with social unrest and high levels of public insecurity.

Stan Chu Ilo (2022) notes, “These two countries illustrate the impact of neo-liberal capitalism and the effects of slavery, colonialism, and imperialism. Together, they have unleashed the most destructive economic, social and political upheaval in modern African history.”

This trip also emerges from Pope Francis’ personal interest for working in the Global South and countries that are located on the “periphery” of the Church’s theology and epistemology. When he first joined the priesthood, he was partly motivated to operate as a Jesuit in Japan as a missionary.

In anticipation of his travel to Africa, during a 2022 interview with Mundo Negro, Pope Francis emphatically stated:


Africa is unique…(but) there is something we must denounce: there is a collective unconscious idea…that says Africa is to be exploited. History tells us this, with independence halfway: they give them economic independence from the ground up, but they keep the subsoil to exploit, we see the exploitation of other countries taking their resources.


For Pope Francis, since the rise of the independent nation state in Africa, there has been an ongoing mineral and environmental extraction that served the interests of “developed” countries in the Global North and consequently, hampered the growth of African nations.

This development pattern is similar to the experience of a number of Latin American countries with which Pope Francis is intimately familiar. The degradation of the environment, underemployment, illiteracy and debt traps limit the capacity of States to promote human development and transformation.

The posture of the Church, drawing on the Vatican II, has radically changed under the leadership of Pope Francis. Rather than adopt a paternalistic and welfare approach to the Church in Africa, Pope Francis sees the ethos of the missionary as fundamental to the respect of African culture and the advancement of the aims and family of the Church.

He said:

…Catholic missionary outreach does not proselytise, but proclaims the Gospel according to the culture of each place. This is Catholicism, respect for cultures. There is no Catholic culture as such; yes, there is Catholic thought, but every culture is rooted in what is Catholic, and this is already experienced in the very action of the Holy Spirt on the morning of Pentecost.  This is very clear. Catholicism is not uniformity, it is harmony, a harmony of differences. And this harmony is created by the Holy Spirit. A missionary goes forth, respects what is found in each place, and helps to create harmony, but (he or she) does not proselytise ideologically or religiously, much less with a colonialistic mindset. Some aberrations have occurred on other continents, for example the serious problem of the schools in Canada that I visited and spoke about. Missionary work must respect the culture of the people, living within that context and doing this service.


Change in the Church might not occur at the pace desired by believers around the world; however, change is always possible, and it happens.

The context of Africa is important to the Church for its relevance and construction of theology.

Without question, issues such as women’s leadership, institutional tolerance of LGBT people, democracy, youth participation, climate change and peace will be vented during Pope Francis’ encounters.

We hope and pray that the wisdom and providence from the margins will animate Africa and the global community of believers.



“Certainly, after directly experiencing the fragility of our own lives and the world around us, we can say that the greatest lesson we learned from Covid-19 was the realisation that we all need one another. That our greatest and yet most fragile treasure is our shared humanity as brothers and sisters, children of God. And that none of us can be saved alone.” (3)


Pope Francis, World Day of Peace 2023

CCSJ Social Justice Education Committee