Denis Mukwege and Pope Francis at the general audience, May 22, 2019. / Vatican Media
Rome Newsroom, Dec 9, 2022 / 04:18 am (CNA).
Pope Francis met Friday with Nobel Peace Prize winner Denis Mukwege, a Congolese physician known for his work treating victims of sexual violence.
The private audience at the Vatican on Dec. 9 comes as Pope Francis is preparing to travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) next month.
Mukwege has said that he hopes the pope’s January visit will “shed light on what is happening in the Congo.”
“The international community is making the same mistake as it did in Rwanda when it allowed the genocide of the Tutsis. Today Rwandan-backed guerrillas are massacring the Congolese: these are crimes against humanity, war crimes that can also be crimes of genocide. And the international community has closed its eyes as it closed them in 1994,” he told Vatican News on Dec. 5.
The M23 armed rebel group in the DRC executed 131 people last week “as part of a campaign of murders, rapes, kidnappings and looting against two villages,” the UN reported on Dec. 8.
“The humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo is unprecedented: six million people are now displaced, homeless and without food,” Mukwege said.
Another rebel group aligned with the Islamic State, the Allied Democratic Forces, attacked a Catholic mission hospital in the country’s northeast province of North Kivu in October and killed six patients and Catholic Sister Marie-Sylvie Kavuke Vakatsuraki.
Mukwege responded to the news of the attack in North Kivu “with horror” and called on all Congolese doctors to demonstrate peacefully on the day of the funeral of the Catholic nun.
“The time has come to consolidate the rule of law and prevent the recurrence of the mass atrocities that have bereaved every Congolese family for more than a quarter of a century,” he said.
Amid the violence perpetrated by armed rebel groups in DRC’s eastern region, Mukwege founded a hospital in 2008 in his hometown of Bukavu, where he and his staff have treated the injuries of thousands of women and girls who were victims of rape and sexual violence.
As a gynecologist, Mukwege is recognized as “one of the world’s leading experts on the treatment of internal injuries suffered by women subjected to gang rape,” according to the Nobel organization.
Mukwege was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 along with Nadia Murad. Both were recognized for their “efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of armed conflict.”
The pope previously met with Murad, a survivor of ISIS enslavement and an advocate for persecuted Iraqi minorities, at the Vatican in 2018 and 2021 following his trip to Iraq.
Pope Francis is scheduled to travel to the Congolese capital of Kinshasa on Jan. 31 before he heads to South Sudan on Feb. 3. The pope’s trip to the African countries was originally to take place at the beginning of July but was postponed by the Vatican due to problems with Pope Francis’ knee.
With the media attention that comes with a papal visit to the Congo, Mukwege said that he wants to see “the international authorities finally take the necessary measures to stop these atrocities, which are a shame for our humanity.”