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Pope Francis visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo from January 31 to February 3. Today he went to South Sudan, where he is joined by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, for the second leg of his 40th apostolic trip.
Aleteia offers this round-up of the Pope’s main events and statements in Kinshasa.
“Hands off Africa!”
Pope Francis’ first stop after landing at Ndjili International Airport in Kinshasa on January 31 was the “Palais de la Nation,” the president’s residence. There he had a private meeting with the country’s president, Félix Tshisekedi, and then gave an impassioned speech to the country’s authorities in the gardens of the palace. “Hands off the Democratic Republic of the Congo! Hands off Africa!” the Pontiff exclaimed, referring to more economically developed countries, as he denounced the exploitation of the continent.
Without citing them directly by name Francis also condemned the forces that try to destroy the “territorial integrity” of the DRC and called everyone not to “grow accustomed to the bloodshed” and violence that the country witnesses everyday. The Pontiff also emphasized the importance of “transparent and credible elections.” During the presidential elections in 2018 the Conference of Bishops of the DRC did not initially recognize President Tshisekedi’s victory, but eventually had to resign to it.
Watch this YouTube Short to see his words and the reaction.
One million people came to the Pope’s mass
The following morning, February 1, a sea of people was waiting for the Pope to celebrate mass at Kinshasa’s Ndolo airport. Over a million people turned up to the celebration that was marked by music, dancing, and big smiles. Read Aleteia’s article on this event here.
The appalling testimonies of the victims from eastern DRC
After the joyous morning Mass, Pope Francis participated in a solemn event at Kinshasa’s Nunciature in the afternoon. Victims of the conflicts and violence in the eastern regions of the DRC shared the horrors they have suffered, leaving the Pope speechless. Read Aleteia’s article on this event here.
Pope Francis was initially supposed to go to Goma in eastern DRC but this stop was canceled due to security reasons. Read Aleteia’s interview with the Bishop of the region here.
“Power is service”
After the meeting with the victims, the Argentine Pontiff also met with members of charity organizations operating in the DRC. He heard strong testimonies such as one from a disabled man who suffered a medical error in his youth, a leper rejected by society, a group of Sant’Egidio volunteers accompanying people with AIDS, and more.
“In the ocean of our pain, we discovered that God has not forgotten us,” said a 68-year-old disabled man.
“Power is service,” the Pope emphasized, encouraging the charity representatives in their work but also calling for more concrete actions and support from the State.
Five important tips and saying no to corruption.
On the morning of February 2, Pope Francis was welcomed like a rock-star to the Martyrs’ Stadium in Kinshasa where more than 65,000 young people and catechists were waiting for him. (Two-thirds of the Congolese population is less than 24 years old.)
In his speech Pope Francis shared five “ingredients for the future,” comparing each to a finger on one’s hand. Read Aleteia’s article here to find out what they are.
During the speech Pope Francis also denounced corruption, encouraging the young people to not let themselves be “overcome by evil” or “manipulated by individuals or groups” that try to keep the country unstable. He asked the roaring crowd to repeat with him in French “pas de corruption” (“no corruption”)!
The crowd shouted the phrase and then erupted in other chants. They started screaming “biso ba jeune, posa na insala te,” meaning “we, the youth, are unemployed.”
“I like this song, you are brave,” the Pontiff commented, raising the noise level in the stadium.
Some chants then started citing the President of the country and other politicians directly. After around 5 minutes of cheering and shouting, with the Pope being unable to calm the crowd, he asked the organizers to intervene. They made an announcement over the speakers, asking the crowd to quiet down, and Francis was then able to continue his speech.
“I hope the message was received by the president,” Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, Archbishop of Kinshasa, then told journalists at a meeting with the Pope on February 3.
When the Pontiff returned to the Nunciature after this event, he also met a group of university students, some of whom he had already spoken to during an online seminar in November 2022.
Pope Francis encouraged the dynamic Church in the DRC
In the afternoon on February 2, Pope Francis met the priests, deacons, consecrated men and women and seminarians of the DRC for a moment of prayer in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Congo. “Do not be discouraged, because we need you!” the Pope said during his speech to the audience of 5,000 people.
He recognized the difficulty in carrying out a mission “in a land rich in natural beauty and resources, but wounded by exploitation, corruption, violence and injustice.” He also called the Church members to be “a light that keeps shining amid the encircling gloom.”
The Archbishop of Kinshasa, Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, also gave a speech, as well as a priest, a sister, and a seminarian.
Read Aleteia’s interview with a Sister in the crowd here.
A private meeting with the Jesuits
Later in the evening Pope Francis met privately with a group of Jesuits who work in DRC. This practice of meeting with the members of his own spiritual family has become tradition for his travels abroad. These exchanges are usually published a few weeks later in the Italian Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica.