“Africa is happy, grateful”: Catholic Bishops on Pope Francis’ Visit Despite Frail Health

Pope Francis greeting congregation at Dr. John Garang Mausoleum on 5 February 2023 just before presiding over Holy MassCredit: ACI Africa

Catholic Bishops in Africa and Madagascar have expressed their gratitude to Pope Francis for visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan despite his poor health.

Reflecting on the just-ended Apostolic journey to the two African countries, the Secretary General of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), Fr. Rafael Simbine Junior, has describes the Holy Father’s visit as historic, and that the people of God in the two countries had experienced “unforgettable days” during the visit.

“Africa is happy and grateful for this 4th apostolic visit of the Holy Father to the continent. In fact, through his visit to these two countries (the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan), Africa experienced unforgettable days with Pope Francis,” Fr. Simbine says in the message that he shared with ACI Africa Sunday, February 5, the day that the Holy Father ended his third trip to Sub-Saharan Africa.

SECAM Secretary General says that Pope Francis had “once again” shown the great love that he has for Africa, adding, “Even though frail, he wanted joy”.

“Joy and deep gratitude are the feelings of the African people after the historic visit of the Holy Father, Pope Francis,” he says in his one-page statement.


Pope Francis ended his ecumenical trip in South Sudan with a farewell ceremony at Juba international after presiding over Holy Mass at the Dr. John Garang Mausoleum

More than 100,000 people participated in the Papal Mass in Juba held at the Mausoleum commemorating Dr. John Garang, a liberation leader known as the “father of South Sudan,” though he died in a helicopter crash before the newest African country gained its independence in July 2011 and plunged into a brutal civil war two years later.

During the Holy Mass on February 5, Pope Francis urged Christians in the world’s youngest nation that has experienced civil strife since December 2013 to make “a decisive contribution to changing history” by refusing to repay evil with evil.

“In the name of Jesus and of his Beatitudes, let us lay down the weapons of hatred and revenge, to take up those of prayer and charity,” Pope Francis said in his homily in Juba during his February 5 Eucharistic celebration.

He added, “I gather here with you in the name of Jesus Christ, the God of love, the God who achieved peace through his cross. … Jesus, crucified in the lives of so many of you, in so many people in this country; Jesus, the risen Lord, the victor over evil and death.”

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Pope Francis underlined that South Sudan’s Christians are called to be “light that shines in the darkness” by living out the Beatitudes.

“This country, so beautiful yet ravaged by violence, needs the light that each one of you has, or better, the light that each one of you is,” he said.

The Holy Father had proceeded to South Sudan after spending equally “unforgettable days” in Kinshasa, DRC. Pope Francis ended his trip in DRC on February 3 having met with 57 of the 74 current and retired Catholic Bishops of the Central African country at the headquarters of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO).

In his message of gratitude to Pope Francis shared with ACI Africa, Fr. Simbine thanks the Holy Father for visiting the African continent “as a pilgrim of hope”, and for praying with the people for peace, justice, and reconciliation.

“Africa is experiencing varied crises which are affecting many levels of existence: political, economic, security and humanitarian. Pope Francis came to unite his voice to the millions of Africans,” the Secretary General of SECAM says. 


He recalls the Holy Father’s strong messages when he arrived in DRC, “Hands off Africa! Stop choking Africa, it is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered!” and on the first day of his peace pilgrimage in South Sudan, “No more bloodshed, no more conflicts, no more violence”. 

“Recalling the famous phrase of Saint John Paul II, Pope Francis said: ‘African solutions must be found to African problems,’” Fr. Simbine says.

According to the Mozambican-born SECAM Secretary General, Pope Francis had come to Africa as a father and pastor, a capacity through which he had strengthened the faith of millions of Catholics, “who despite many challenges faithfully keep their faith in Jesus Christ: they suffer in Christian hope.”

“Our joy was great as we heard the Holy Father, after presiding over the Holy Eucharist in the Roman Rite for the Dioceses of Zaire saying: ‘Yours is a Church present in the lived history of this people, deeply rooted in its daily life, and the forefront of charity. It is a community capable of attracting others, filled with infectious enthusiasm,” Fr. Simbine recounts.

In his message of gratitude to Pope Francis, the member of the Clergy of Mozambique’s Xai-Xai Diocese recalls Pope Francis’ recognition of the people of God in Africa as characterized with enthusiasm, joy, and missionary zeal as to give oxygen to the universal Church.

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According to the official of the Symposium of Catholic Bishops in Africa, Pope Francis had set the pace for interreligious dialogue in Africa with his visit.

“He came as a Pontiff and left words that mark out the path that the Catholic Church in Africa must follow henceforward for the years to come,” he says, and adds, “The ecumenical prayer led by three leaders (Pope Francis, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Rev. Dr. Iain Greenshields) encouraged African Christians to be one: pray together and work together.”

The Secretary General of SECAM further says, “Thank you, Holy Father, for having come to Africa again, to strengthen the faith of millions of Catholics.”

“May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Africa, intercede for your health and your mission, Pope Francis,” Fr. Simbine implores in his message shared with ACI Africa February 5.


Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.