Pope Francis prays in front of a crucifix during his general audience on Oct. 26, 2022. / Vatican Media
Rome Newsroom, Jan 17, 2023 / 09:00 am (CNA).
Pope Francis expressed his closeness on Tuesday to the victims of a church bombing in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that killed at least 14 people and injured more than 60.
“In prayer, the Holy Father entrusts the deceased and the wounded to the mercy of God. He implores Christ, the Lord of Life, that the afflicted may find consolation and trust in God, invoking upon them the gift of peace,” a telegram sent Jan. 17 on behalf of the pope said.
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the deadly bombing of a Sunday church service at a Pentecostal church in the eastern Congolese town of Kasindi on the border with Uganda.
Congolese authorities said the day after the attack that the death toll had risen to at least 14 people, according to The Associated Press.
Pope Francis sent the condolence message two weeks before he is set to travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The pope is scheduled to visit the Congolese capital of Kinshasa from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3, where he will meet with victims of violence from the country’s eastern region.
Pope Francis was originally scheduled to also visit Goma, the capital of North Kivu, in addition to Kinshasa in his July itinerary before the trip was postponed to February. The stop was removed from the 2023 schedule, likely due to security concerns in the eastern DRC.
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.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Denis Mukwege has said that he hopes the pope’s January visit will shed light on the “crimes against humanity” occurring in the DRC’s eastern region.
The Allied Democratic Forces, an African affiliate of the Islamic State, attacked a Catholic mission hospital in the country’s northeast province of North Kivu in October 2022 and killed six patients and Catholic Sister Marie-Sylvie Kavuke Vakatsuraki.
Another armed rebel group, the M23, executed 131 people “as part of a campaign of murders, rapes, kidnappings, and looting against two villages,” the U.N. reported Dec. 8, 2022.
Pope Francis’ condolence message after the bombing was addressed to Rev. Andre Bokundoa-Bo-Likabe, the president of the Church of Christ in Congo, who has called for “credible investigations to establish responsibility” for the attack and for the government to ensure proper care for “all the wounded scattered in different hospitals.”
Congolese Catholic Bishop Melchisedec Sikuli Paluku also condemned the “heinous” attack on the Protestant church and reassured the families affected of his diocese’s “fervent prayers in this time of trial.”
Paluku, the bishop of Butembo-Beni in eastern Congo, stressed that authorities have the obligation to “to protect citizens as well as their property” and “to scrupulously enforce the principle of the sacredness of life and the inviolability of places of worship.”
“Anyone who kills is against God’s plan,” the bishop said.