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What you do not know about pope Francis' previous visits to Africa

What you do not know about pope Francis' previous visits to Africa
In this file photo taken on September 08, 2019 Pope Francis' arrives to lead a Holy Mass at the Androhibe Soamandrakizay diocesan grounds in Antananarivo, Madagascar.   -  
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Alessandra Tarantino/Copyright 2019 The AP. All rights reserved.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis, 86, begins a six-day trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan on January 31.

Since his election in 2013, the head of the Catholic Church has made four trips to the continent and visited eight countries.

Jorge Bergoglio made his first trip to Africa on the 25th of November 2015. 

2015: Kenya, Uganda and Central African Republic

He first landed in Nairobi Kenya where he met with the head of State, members of the Diplomatic corps. The day after, he presided over a mass at the University of Nairobi, met with the clergy and consecrated men and women before visiting the headquarters of the UN in the Kenyan capital.

On November 27, he visited the poor neighbourhood of Kangemi and delivered a speech to the youth in Kasarani Stadium. 

During his stay in Uganda (Nov. 27-28), he met with the President and representatives of the local Catholic Church as well as the youth. One of the highlights of his visit was a tour of the Anglican and Catholic sanctuary dedicated to 22 Christian martyrs and saints of the XIXth century. The Uganda Martyrs Shrine Namugongo is one of the largest Christian pilgrimage destinations on the continent.

The most anticipated part of his apostolic trip was his travel to the Central African Republic (Nov. 29-30). It was under tight security and focused on a message of peace, social justice and dialogue with Islam.

The central African country was still suffering from the consequences of inter-communal violence. Pope Francis made a symbolic gesture by visiting the central mosque in Bangui, and opened the "holy door" of the cathedral as a sign of reconciliation.

2017: Expressing closeness

In April 2017, the Argentine Jesuit made a two-day visit to Cairo (Ap. 28-29). It wasthe first papal trip to the Egyptian capital in 20 years. He wanted to mark his closeness to the largest Christian community in the Middle East, which had been battered by terrorist attacks. 

Indeed, Egypt’s ancient Christian community known as Coptic Christians faced an unprecedented pressure from Islamic State militants threatening to wipe it out.

The Pope's visit came weeks after suicide attacks on two churches killed dozens of people.

Francis also reached out to Muslims, alongside the Sunni Grand Imam of Al-Azhar. The Pontiff spoke at the Al-Azhar University, one of the most renowned Sunni institutions in the world, where he addressed an international peace conference hosted by Al-Azhar and chaired by its grand imam.

He advocated for ecumenical dialogue by meeting with the Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II.

2019: one year, 4 countries

Invited by King Mohammed VI, the pope visited Morocco, a Muslim country on March 30 and 31, 2019. During his visit in Rabat, Francis dropped by a rural centre of social services and a migrants assistance center. 

The kingdom became in recent years the main destination for sub-Saharan African migrants seeking to reach Europe via Spain.

Francis' visit was marked by calls for the respect of the rights of migrants, religious tolerance and freedom of conscience. He also warned Christians against any temptation to "proselytize", before celebrating mass in Rabat.

Together with His majesty King Mohammed VI, the Pope made an appeal for Jerusalem/ Al Quds to be a place of peace: "It is our hope that in the Holy City, full freedom of access to the followers of the three monotheistic religions and their right to worship will be guaranteed [...]" 

That reality has not been true in recent years as the city witnessed cycles of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

In September 2019, the spiritual father to about 1.3 billion Catholics toured the Indian Ocean, visiting Mozambique and Madagascar, but also Mauritius. In the lusophone nation, Francis met with political, religious and civil actors to discuss peace-related issues since Mozambique had been heavily affected by conflict and a jihadist insurgency, poverty and cyclone as well as floods.

In Madagascar (Sept. 6-8), Francis sounded the alarm about deforestation. 30 years after the last papal visit by John Paul II he celebrating a mass in front of a million faithful in the capital Antananarivo.

The final leg of his tour saw his stop by Mauritius for a one-day stay (Sept. 9). Thousands had gathered in front of the "Mary Queen of Peace" shrine where Francis celebrated mass. 

He also met with civil authorities and civil society at the presidential palace. Francis pleaded for peace and social justice.