ROME (AP) — Pope Francis on Tuesday sent his condolences to the victims of a bombing on a Pentecostal church in eastern Congo, an attack claimed by Islamic militants two weeks before the pontiff is due to arrive in the country.
Authorities say Sunday’s bombing in Kasindi, a town in North Kivu province, killed at least 14 people and injured more than 60. The Islamic State group and its Aamaq news outlet said militants had planted an explosive device inside the church and detonated it while people were praying.
Francis addressed the telegram of condolence to the Rev. Andre Bokundoa-Bo-Likabe, whom the Vatican identified as the president of the Church of Christ in Congo.
According to the telegram, Francis expressed “his compassion and closeness to all the families hard hit by this tragedy” and called for peace.
Francis is due to arrive in the Congolese capital Kinshasa on Jan. 31 for a three-day visit. When it was originally scheduled for July, the trip was supposed to include a stop in Goma, the capital of North Kivu.
The Vatican scrapped that leg of the trip, amid a new wave of attacks in parts of North Kivu. Violence has wracked eastern Congo for decades as more than 120 armed groups and self-defense militias fight for land and power. Nearly 6 million people are internally displaced, and hundreds of thousands are facing extreme food insecurity, according to the United Nations.
While he won’t be going to Goma, Francis will meet with some residents from the east and victims of the conflict in Kinshasa.