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Fiery prelate to welcome pope for African peace mission

Nigerian Bishop Matthew Kukah has often decried the kidnappings and other persecution of his country’s Christians

Most Reverend Matthew Hassan Kukah, the bishop of Sokoto-Nigeria

Most Reverend Matthew Hassan Kukah, the bishop of Sokoto-Nigeria. (Photo supplied)

Published: January 30, 2023 09:22 AM GMT

Updated: January 30, 2023 09:24 AM GMT

A prominent Nigerian prelate and outspoken critic of the government for its complicity in the persecution of the country’s Christians has been named on the Episcopal team for the forthcoming papal visit to sub-Saharan Africa.

Bishop Matthew Kukah, who leads Sokoto diocese in Nigeria’s northwestern corner, has been designated part of the special delegation of bishops that will receive Pope Francis in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, when he arrives for the Jan. 31- Feb. 5 apostolic visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

Pope Francis’ third visit to sub-Saharan Africa since becoming pontiff in 2013 is widely seen as a pilgrimage of faith that could turn the fortunes of the two African nations grappling with abject poverty and conflicts.

The choice of Bishop Kukah, announced through a communication signed by the secretary-general of the Reunion of Episcopal Conferences of West Africa, does not come as a surprise because of his expertise and wealth of experience both in interreligious dialogue and ecumenism.

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Bishop Kukah as a member of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue.

The 70-year-old fiery cleric is also convener of the Kukah Center and National Peace Committee in Abuja that remains at the forefront of entrenching faith, leadership, public policy and peaceful democratic transitions across Africa. 

"Francis had in a dramatic fashion knelt and kissed the feet of South Sudanese warring leaders"

Congo has a Catholic population of 45 million, the largest in Africa and funds about 40 percent of the nation's health facilities as well as providing for the education of 6 million children. In South Sudan, Christians make up 60 percent of the population with 37.2 percent Roman Catholic.

The 82-year-old pontiff will be meeting victims of violence in eastern Congo and representatives of charities on Feb. 1, besides the young people and catechists on Feb. 2. He is expected to appeal to African leaders to ensure peace on the continent even as he prays for victims of the senseless violence.

In Juba, the South Sudanese capital on Feb. 3, Pope Francis alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields, will meet President Salva Kiir, members of civil society and the diplomatic corps to press home demands for peace in the warring nation.

In April 2019, Francis had in a dramatic fashion knelt and kissed the feet of South Sudanese warring leaders urging them to return the country to the path of peace after an unprecedented retreat at the Vatican.

Coming after the demise of Pope Benedict XVI, the world looks to the successor of St. Peter hoping this historic visit would bring hope and unity to the two nations and the continent.

Since the last pope to visit Congo in 1985 was John Paul II, the mineral-rich nation has been witness to decades of conflict. It is hoped that the warring factions will sheath their swords and embrace peace.


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