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Gerard O’ConnellFebruary 02, 2023
A woman raises her hand as Pope Francis meets with young people and catechists in Martyrs' Stadium in Kinshasa, Congo, Feb. 2, 2023. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis concludes his four-day visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo tomorrow morning.

He had promised the people he would come, and he kept that promise, notwithstanding his physical limitations. He has now shown that his advanced age and physical mobility problems have not limited his extraordinary capacity to console the afflicted, denounce violence and corruption, call evildoers to conversion and sustain the faithful in hope.

From the moment of his arrival in the D.R.C on Tuesday, he has been received with tremendous welcome. People lined the streets from the airport to the city—over a million people attended his open-air Mass, 65,000 young people exploded with joy when he joined them at the Martyrs’ Stadium, and hundreds lined the streets when he addressed clergy and consecrated religious women and men at the cathedral on Feb. 2. Everywhere he went, people turned out to cheer him on.

Jolette Kinabayu Ka, a young nurse who attended the pope’s meeting with young people at the Martyrs’ Stadium, praised his use of a wheelchair. So often in this country, and other parts of Africa, “people in wheelchairs are considered to be handicapped, who cannot do much,” she said. “But Pope Francis shows us what they are really capable of, and gives hope to such people.”

Pope Francis had promised the people of the D.R.C that he would come, and he kept that promise, notwithstanding his physical limitations. 

While Francis has drawn significant criticism in recent weeks, the people I spoke with in the D.R.C. have hailed the pope as “a great pastor of the people” and “a man of God.”

Pope Francis delivered a powerful message to the people of the D.R.C. when he made clear that his primary concern was to promote reconciliation and peace in this war-torn land, and to tell these profoundly religious people that Christ and his teaching offers the way to healing in the D.R.C. That was the golden thread of the seven speeches he has delivered over the past three days.

In his keynote speech to the authorities, Francis used the power of his office to bring the world’s attention to “the forgotten genocide” that has taken place in this land over the past 30 years. The genocide in the D.R.C, unlike the genocide in Rwanda, has been conveniently overlooked by governments and the international community and largely ignored by the international media because it took place over decades not weeks. By throwing the papal spotlight on this tragedy, Pope Francis is calling for it to be recognized and addressed internationally, all these years later.Pope Francis said he intended, with this visit, to bring consolation to the people, and that is what he did, with great tenderness and compassion, when he met victims of the violence in the east of the country on Feb. 1. In his talk to survivors, he condemned “the armed violence, the massacres, the rapes, the destruction and occupation of villages,” that is the brutal face of the genocide and crimes that, he suggested, have both political and economic causes.

Young people gathered to meet Pope Francis at the Martyr’s stadium, chanted: “No more corruption!”

He likewise condemned “the murderous, illegal exploitation of the wealth of this country, and the attempts to fragment the country in order to control it” and, he said, “the insecurity, violence and war that tragically affect so many people are disgracefully fueled not only by outside forces but also from within, for the sake of pursuing private interests and advantage.”

Throughout his time in Kinshasa, he hit out hard against corruption, including in his talk to the country’s authorities on Jan. 31, and to the young people gathered at Martyr’s stadium, who, hearing his words, chanted: “No more corruption!”

Pope Francis, however, did not just denounce and condemn, he also sought to inspire those who have influence on the country’s future. He called for good governance by those in authority at national and local levels, and urged them to see power as service. He called on them, and also on civil society and charitable groups, to work for the elimination of poverty and inequality. He called state authorities to make significant investments in education and health care, and ensure the protection of the environment, especially given that the D.R.C. is the home of the equatorial forest, considered one of the world’s two “lungs.”

The pope also offered a roadmap to peace. He called the one million people who came to Mass on the outskirts of Kinshasa on Feb.1 and the young people and catechists who gathered at the stadium the next day, to overcome hatred, tribalism and revenge, to be converted and see each other as brothers and sisters, and become peacemakers in their homeland.

The pope has rallied priests, consecrated religious men and women, seminarians, catechists and young people “to disarm the human heart” and work for reconciliation and peace.

“We thank God for the pope, and that he has come to our country to bring hope and peace,” 20-year-old Corady Magazimi told America. “We ask God to protect him during his stay here, and we consider his visit a blessing for our land.”

“Become a people of reconciliation, capable of openness and dialogue, acceptance and forgiveness, who make rivers of peace flow through the arid plains of violence,” he said, addressing priests and consecrated religious at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Congo (Notre-Dame du Congo) on Feb. 2. But, knowing well that they faced “difficult and often dangerous conditions,” as Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo, the archbishop of Kinshasa, said when he welcomed the pope to the cathedral, Pope Francis sought to raise their spirits. “Do not be discouraged, because we need you!” he said. “You are precious and important. I say this in the name of the whole church. May you always be channels of the Lord’s consoling presence, joyous witnesses of the Gospel, prophets of peace amid the storms of violence, disciples of love, ever ready to care for the wounds of the poor and suffering.”

“Peace is a state of the spirit. One cannot import it, one builds it,” Mr. Faustin Kamba told America. “Reconciliation implies a taking of consciousness that a community here is called to live together for the good of all.”

While Pope Francis has focused his attention on the dramatic situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he also cast his thoughts to the wider African continent, and called its people to become “protagonists” of their own future.

 

“Hands off the Democratic Republic of the Congo! Hands off Africa! Stop choking Africa,” he said in his talk to the authorities on Jan. 31, directing himself at to foreign powers and multinational corporations. “It is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered.”

On his final full day in the D.R.C., Pope Francis, who has already visited nine countries in Africa, again returned to the situation in the continent in his talk at the cathedral. “Sadly, the history of many peoples of this continent has had to bend before the force of suffering and violence,” he said. “If there is one desire in everyone’s heart, it is that of never again having to do so, never again having to bow down before the arrogance of the powerful, or having to submit to the yoke of injustice.”

Throughout his visit, Francis has conveyed the message that there is no reason for a Christian to give into discouragement or fatalism, because “evil does not have the final word,” violence can be ended, reconciliation and peace are possible.

“We thank God for the pope, and that he has come to our country to bring hope and peace,” Corady Magazimi, a 20-year-old woman who is a student of hotel management in Kinshasa told America. “We ask God to protect him during his stay here, and we consider his visit a blessing for our land.”

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