Loading...
Loading...
Click here if you don’t see subscription options
Gerard O’ConnellFebruary 01, 2023
A nun holds Congo's national flag as people wait for Pope Francis' celebration of Mass at Ndolo airport in Kinshasa, Congo, Feb. 1, 2023. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

More than one million Congolese sang, danced and prayed with Pope Francis this morning, Feb. 1, as he presided over a Zaire-style Roman-rite Mass for justice and peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In his homily, the pope presented a roadmap to peace.

It was a festive occasion and the only public Mass that Francis will celebrate during his four-day visit here. He looked joyful as he drove among them in his popemobile, before presiding at a Mass, which he concelebrated with the bishops from the country’s 48 dioceses in French and Lingala. The celebration was enriched by traditional dancing by young girls and a powerful choir of 700 wearing white and yellow robes. Prayers were recited in French, Lingala, Kikongo, Tshiluba and Swahili.

[Explainer: What is the Zaire rite—and why is Pope Francis talking about it now?]

As the people waited for him to drive among them in the popemobile before the Mass, I spoke to some of them, including Ms. Mutita Clotildi and Ms. Micheline Mpunav, two professors from Lubumbashi, the country’s second-largest city in the southeast. “Pope Francis is a parent who has come to visit his sick children; he comes to calm the fear in our cities, to calm the fear in the hearts of our children,” Ms. Clotildi said. Ms. Mpunav added: “We have great need of his visit because our country is so divided. We are convinced that he can contribute to bringing peace because he is a man of God.”

More than one million Congolese sang, danced and prayed with Pope Francis as he presided over a Zaire-style Roman-rite Mass for justice and peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Pope Francis is the bishop of all the faithful, from Kinshasa to Rome and all around the world,” the Rev. Abbé Mertens Diansuka, a priest from the Archdiocese of Kinshasa, said. “We hope that his visit will help to reconcile all the people of this land, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, because he has not just come for the Catholics. We hope that his visit will also help other countries to be more peaceful.”

Francis drew warm applause from the crowd, which included President Felix Tshisekedi and members of the government and parliament, when he began his homily with some words in their native language, “Bandeko, bobóto [Brothers and sisters, peace be with you].” They applauded again when using another word, “esengo,” meaning joy. He told them, “It is a great joy for me to encounter you. I have very much looked forward to this moment.… Thank you for being here!”

Speaking in Italian with ongoing translation in French, he commented on the Gospel of the day that recalled the great joy the disciples experienced on the evening of Easter and how this joy exploded “when they saw the Lord” (Jn 20:20). Francis noted that “in this atmosphere of joy and wonder, the risen Jesus speaks to them…four simple words: “Peace be with you!” (v. 19).

Francis then proceeded in his homily to focus on the theme of peace. He recalled that “Jesus comes and proclaims peace, even as his disciples’ hearts were downcast. He announces life, even as they felt surrounded by death.”

He applied that Easter message to the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo and said, “Brothers and sisters, with Jesus, evil never wins, evil never has the last word.”

Francis told the million Congolese gathered before him that Jesus has shown “three sources” from which “to nurture peace”: “forgiveness, community and mission.”

Francis told the million Congolese gathered before him that Jesus has shown “three sources” from which “to nurture peace”: “forgiveness, community and mission.”

First, he said, “we believe that Jesus always gives us the possibility of being forgiven and starting over, but also the strength to forgive ourselves, others and history! That is what Christ wants. He wants to anoint us with his forgiveness, to give us peace and the courage to forgive others in turn, the courage to grant others a great amnesty of the heart.”

He said that this may be “a good time for all of you in this country who call yourselves Christians but engage in violence” because “the Lord is telling you: ‘Lay down your arms; embrace mercy.’” He encouraged them and the oppressed people of the land, “Give Christ the chance to heal your heart, hand your past over to him, along with all your fears and troubles.”

Francis said “community” is the second source for nurturing peace. He reminded them, “There is no Christianity without community, just as there is no peace without fraternity.” He urged them to build a community by looking for “what unites” not “what divides” and to “go out into the world no longer for themselves but for others; not to gain attention but to offer hope; not to earn approval but to spend their lives joyfully for the Lord and for others.”

Pope Francis: “The Lord is telling you: ‘Lay down your arms; embrace mercy.”

He called on them to “resist the lure of power and money and not give in to divisiveness, to the temptations of careerism that corrode the community.” He called on them “to share with the poor” because “that is the best antidote against the temptations of divisiveness and worldliness.”

Lastly, Pope Francis pointed to “mission” as the third “source of peace.” He told the Congolese Christians: “We are called to be missionaries of peace, and this will bring us peace.” He said, “We need to find room in our hearts for everyone; to believe that ethnic, regional, social and religious differences are secondary and not obstacles; that others are our brothers and sisters, members of the same human community; and that the peace brought into the world by Jesus is meant for everyone.”

Pope Francis concluded his homily with words of encouragement to the Congolese: “Peace be with you, Jesus says today to every family, community, ethnic group, neighborhood, and city in this great country.” He urged them to listen to these words of Jesus and to “choose to be witnesses of forgiveness, builders of community, people charged with a mission of peace in our world.”

•••

After celebrating a joyful Mass, Pope Francis moved to the nunciature, where he listened to the gut-wrenching testimonies of six victims who had suffered great violence and inhumanity in the conflict-torn east of the country.

He heard a young man tell how he had watched his father being cut to pieces and his mother raped. He listened to a young woman recount how at the age of 16 she and others were raped many times a day by groups of armed men who forced her and them to eat the bodies of people they had killed. He heard how young women were mutilated and saw what remained of their hands.

He listened in silence as they laid the instruments of their torturers at the foot of the cross and said they forgave those who had done such evil to them. He caressed and blessed each of them. He listened with head bowed as they thanked him for coming to console them and hear their testimonies and then sang the Hail Mary.

Pope Francis experienced great pain as he listened to the gut-wrenching testimonies of six victims who had suffered great violence and inhumanity in the conflict-torn east of the country.

Speaking with emotion, Francis thanked them for their testimonies and courage. He said he was shocked at hearing “the inhumane violence that you have seen with your eyes and personally experienced. We are left without words; we can only weep in silence.” He named the places where they came from—Bunia, Beni-Butembo, Goma, Masisi, Rutshuru, Bukavu, Uvira—and lamented that the international media “hardly ever mention” those places where “so many of our brothers and sisters…have been held hostage to the whims of the powerful, those with the most potent weapons, weapons that continue to circulate.”

He told these inhabitants of the eastern D.R.C.:

I am close to you. Your tears are my tears; your pain is my pain. To every family that grieves or is displaced by the burning of villages and other war crimes, to the survivors of sexual violence and to every injured child and adult, I say: I am with you; I want to bring you God’s caress. He gazes upon you with tenderness and compassion. While the violent treat you as pawns, our heavenly Father sees your dignity, and to each of you he says: “You are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you” (Is 43:4).

On his first day here, Francis had denounced the country’s “forgotten genocide.” Today, he spoke with equal force and said, “In God’s name, I condemn the armed violence, the massacres, the rapes, the destruction and occupation of villages, and the looting of fields and cattle that continue to be perpetrated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

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 denounced “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.”

He told these victims and the countless other victims in the east, “I humbly bow my head and, with pain in my heart, ask [God] to forgive the violence of man against man.” He asked God to “have mercy on us! Console the victims and those who suffer,” to “convert the hearts of those who carry out brutal atrocities” and to “open the eyes of those who refuse to see these abominations or walk away from them.”

Appealing “to all the internal and external organizations that orchestrate war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in order to plunder, scourge and destabilize the country,” he said, “You are enriching yourselves through the illegal exploitation of this country’s goods and through the brutal sacrifice of innocent victims.” He called on them to “listen to the cry of their blood, open your ears to the voice of God, who calls you to conversion, and to the voice of your conscience: Put away your weapons, put an end to war. Enough! Stop getting rich at the cost of the poor, stop getting rich from resources and money stained with blood!”

The latest from america

In this episode of “Inside the Vatican,” hosts Colleen Dulle and Gerard O’Connell bring you inside the G7 summit and Pope Francis' meeting with comedians.
Inside the VaticanJune 20, 2024
A Homily for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, by Father Terrance Klein
Terrance KleinJune 20, 2024
Pope Francis and a nine member Council of Cardinals heard presentations from women experts on the role of women in the church through the lens of canon law.
Ultimately, it is up to each of us to prayerfully discern the individual contribution we can make. Guided by our faith and Catholic social teaching, we can do our part to support a just peace in Israel-Palestine.