Pope prays for end to violence in DRC before more than a million on 2nd day in Africa


After a fiery speech on his first day in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pope Francis toned down but kept the political focus as he held an open-air Mass in the capital Kinshasa on Wednesday.

More than a million people attended the event, held on the runway of a smaller airport in the city and aimed at government officials. Thousands of those present spent the night there waiting for the pontiff, in vigil.

If the day before Francis had pointed the finger at the international community, according to him guilty of subjecting the African country to an “economic colonialism”, this time he turned to the faithful themselves when addressing the violence that has plagued the DRC for decades —UN data indicate that armed conflicts have displaced 5.7 million Congolese internally, and led to nearly a quarter of the population of 96 million facing severe hunger.

“To all the inhabitants of this country who call themselves Christians but use violence, the Lord is saying to them: ‘Put down your weapons, embrace piety'”, declared the pontiff, adding that God wanted his faithful to have ” the courage to grant each other a great amnesty from the heart”.

Francisco’s trip is part of a time of increasing bloody episodes in the former Belgian colony, which is witnessing continuous wars over disputes over minerals such as coltan, used in electronic products. More recently, the resurgence of the M23 armed group, which has conquered large areas of territory on the border with Rwanda, has multiplied cases of violence. There is also the presence of terrorist groups such as the Islamic State (IS).

Violence in the country dates back many years, however, and still includes rebellions abroad based in the DRC; identity disputes, especially in relation to Rwandan language-speaking groups; and the State’s inability to deal with the more than 100 armed groups spread across the territory.

The pope also said in the sermon that the Congolese people suffer from “wounds that burn, continually infected by hatred and violence, while the medicine of justice and the balm of hope never seem to show up”. “What good would it do us to cleanse our hearts of hatred and remorse, of every trace of resentment and hostility,” he said.

In the audience, several women wore dresses emblazoned with the pope’s face, in keeping with a tradition in many African countries of honoring dignitaries, while children watched mass from a plane in search of a better angle.

Francis’s visit — the first by a pontiff to the DRC since the 1980s, when the country was still called Zaire — was initially scheduled for last July. It had to be postponed, however, due to pain in the knee of the 86-year-old leader, who has been using a wheelchair to get around, and also to the intensification of violence in Goma, a city in northeastern Congo. Still this Wednesday, he should meet with victims of violence in the east of the territory.

Francisco remains in Kinshasa until the morning of next Friday (3), when he travels to South Sudan, the youngest country in the world and also one of the poorest. There he will be joined by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, in an unprecedented conjunction of the three overseas Christian leaders.

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