“Right now we are crossing the Sahara. Let’s spend a short moment in silence, a prayer for all the people who, looking for a little bit of comfort, a little bit of freedom, have crossed and did not make it,” Pope Francis said.
“So many suffering people who arrive at the Mediterranean and after having crossed the desert are caught in the camps and suffer there. We pray for all those people.”
Pope Francis also expressed disappointment that he was unable on this trip to visit Goma, a city in eastern Congo, due to the ongoing violence.
The violence in eastern Congo has created a severe humanitarian crisis with more than 5.5 million people displaced from their homes, the third-highest number of internally displaced people in the world.
The pope is scheduled to meet with victims of violence from eastern Congo on Feb. 1 in Kinshasa following a Mass that is expected to draw 2 million people.
South Sudan’s security situation also poses significant challenges to the papal trip. The U.N. reported last month that an escalation in violent clashes in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state had killed 166 people and displaced more than 20,000 since August.
Pope Francis will visit Kinshasa Jan. 31-Feb. 3 before traveling to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, Feb. 3-5.
The pope is scheduled to arrive in the Democratic Republic of Congo at 3 p.m. local time after a nearly seven-hour flight traveling more than 3,350 miles, a route that will fly over eight countries: Italy, Tunisia, Algeria, Niger, Chad, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, and the Republic of the Congo.
Upon landing in Kinshasa, Pope Francis will meet with President Felix Tshisekedi and address the DRC’s civil authorities in a speech at the Palais de la Nation.
The pope’s trip to Congo and South Sudan is Pope Francis’ third visit to sub-Saharan Africa. At the end of his 40th apostolic journey this week, the pope will have visited 60 countries.
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.