Vatican decries murder

VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis on Thursday denounced the murder of innocent women and children as the “horrid face” of war as he presided at a special prayer service for peace in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Pope had planned to go later this year to South Sudan, which has been hit by civil war, famine and a refugee crisis, but had to scrap the project for security reasons.

During the service, which was punctuated by African singing in English, French, Italian and Swahili, The Pope asked God to “break down the walls of hostility that today divide brothers and sisters, especially in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

“May he protect children who suffer from conflicts in which they have no part, but which rob them of their childhood and at times of life itself,” he said in his brief homily.

“How hypocritical it is to deny the mass murder of women and children! Here war shows its most horrid face,” he said.

St Peter’s Basilica was decked out with photographs of African children.

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after protracted bloodshed, then fell into civil war in late 2013, with troops loyal to President Salva Kiir fighting those backing Riek Machar, a former vice president Kiir had sacked. Both sides have targeted civilians, human rights groups say.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, dozens of people have died in protests against President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down at the end of his constitutional mandate last December.

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