Pope Francis meets Joseph Kabila
Pope Francis with President Joseph Kabila during a private audience at the Vatican, on 26 September 2016 Andrew Medichini /AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis has announced he will not visit the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as was initially planned.

A visit was planned for the summer, but the political crisis that persists in the DRC and seemingly poor relations between the Church and the regime of Congolese President Joseph Kabila have led the Pontiff to review his trip.

The Pope met Kabila at the Vatican in September last year – a few days after the Congolese authorities cracked down on a peaceful demonstration asking the president to step down when his mandate ended on 19 December and for the organisation of delayed elections.

It is no secret that the relations between the Pope and Kabila are tense. For instance, Francis did not greet Kabila in the reception room where, according to Vatican protocol, the Pontiff would normally greet a visiting head of state.

Last week, the Pope told German weekly Die Zeit he would no longer be visiting Kinshasa. According to the report, the Pope was expected to visit between July and August, but no Vatican delegation had so far been sent to prepare the visit, as is the tradition.

"It was planned for me to go to the two Congos (DRC and Republic of the Congo/Congo-Brazzaville), but things are not going well with Kabila. I do not think I can go," the Pope said, dampen hopes of millions of Congolese.

Christianity is the majority religion in the DRC, followed by about 80% of the population, of which 50% are Catholics. As Kabila's second term ended, the Catholic Church was called in the hope it could broker an agreement between the presidential majority and the opposition in a bid to avoid bloodshed.

While the Holy See's Secretariat of State and its various offices are yet to comment on Francis' remarks, it is understood that the Pontiff may not want to give the impression of supporting a president who has become illegitimate for many Congolese.