Pope Francis on Tuesday departed the Vatican on for his first international trip this year a six-day visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.
The pontiff’s plane took off in the morning from Rome.
His first destination is the Congolese capital of Kinshasa, where he will remain there until Friday.
Francis then plans to fly to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, before returning to the Vatican on Sunday.
The pope’s visit to two countries hit hard by conflict, violence and natural disasters is intended to bring a message of peace and reconciliation.
Congo’s eastern regions have seen a recent increase in violent clashes between armed rebels and security forces.
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In neighbouring South Sudan, which became independent from Sudan in 2011, there are regular bloody clashes between rival tribes.
Both countries are also struggling with the consequences of climate change, which has been blamed for recent flooding.
Highlights of the trip are expected to include a public mass at Kinshasa’s military air base on Wednesday, which is expected to draw 1 million believers and meetings between the pope and victims of violence, refugees and internally displaced persons. (dpa/NAN)