· Vatican City ·

‘Thank you for being with me’

 ‘Thank you for being with me’  ING-005
03 February 2023

Pope Francis began his 40th Apostolic Journey abroad, to the African nations of South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo ( drc ), on Tuesday morning, 31 January. The Holy Father was originally scheduled to complete this journey in July of 2022, but a flare-up of pain in his knee constrained him to postpone.

On Monday afternoon, 30 January, as is his custom before every papal trip, the Holy Father went to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome to pray before the icon of Mary Salus Populi Romani and entrust his travels to her care.

On Tuesday morning, before leaving his Vatican residence, the Pope met with a group of migrants and refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan who receive assistance from the Jesuit-run Centro Astalli in Rome. The Pope then made a short stop at the Monument to the Fallen of Kindu, which is located at the entrance to Rome’s Fiumicino International Airport. He prayed for the 13 Italian airmen killed in Congo on 11 November 1961 to whom the monument is dedicated, and for all who have lost their lives participating in humanitarian and peace missions.

The ita-Airways papal flight left Rome’s Fiumicino Airport at 8:29 a.m., local time, with the Pope and more than 70 journalists on board. Addressing them during the flight, the Holy Father said he had hoped to also visit the city of Goma, which is situated in the eastern part of the drc , but that “with the war, we will be unable to go there. Only Kinshasa and Juba. From there we will do everything”, he said. “Thank you for being here with me, all together”, he continued. “Thank you for your work which is so good; it helps a great deal, because it enables the images and also your thoughts, your reflections on the trip, to reach the people who are interested in the journey”. As they flew over the Sahara Desert, the Pope invited those on board to join him in a moment of silent prayer “for all the people who, in search of a little well-being, a little freedom, have crossed it and not made it. So many suffering people who arrive at the Mediterranean and, after having crossed the desert, are caught in the lagers and suffer there”. The plane arrived at “N’djili” International Airport in the drc ’s capital of Kinshasa at 2:33 p.m., local time.