Pope Francis is greeted at the N’Dolo Airport in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Jan. 31, 2023. | Credit: Vatican Media
In his first speech in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday, Pope Francis urged the international community to give the central African country its autonomy while not turning a blind eye to exploitation and violence.
“This country and this continent deserve to be respected and listened to; they deserve to find space and receive attention,” the pope said yesterday in the garden of the Palais de la Nation in Kinshasa.
“Hands off the Democratic Republic of the Congo!” he continued as spectators cheered and applauded. “Hands off Africa! Stop choking Africa: Africa is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered.”
Pope Francis landed in Kinshasa, the capital city of the DRC, yesterday afternoon; the visit is the first leg of a six-day trip that will also include South Sudan.
The streets of the pope’s five-mile drive from the N’Dolo Airport to the presidential residence were lined with thousands of locals who cheered and waved flags.
Francis met privately with President Felix Tshisekedi before an audience with the country’s authorities, diplomats, and representatives of civil society.
“May Africa be the protagonist of its own destiny!” the pope said. “May the world acknowledge the catastrophic things that were done over the centuries to the detriment of the local peoples and not forget this country and this continent.”
The pope continued, “We cannot grow accustomed to the bloodshed that has marked this country for decades, causing millions of deaths that remain mostly unknown elsewhere.”
Pope Francis’ speech noted the DRC’s endurance of political exploitation, what he called “economic colonialism,” child labour, and violence.
“This country, so immense and full of life, this diaphragm of Africa, struck by violence like a blow to the stomach, has seemed for some time to be gasping for breath,” he said.
“As you, the Congolese people, fight to preserve your dignity and your territorial integrity against deplorable attempts to fragment the country, I come to you, in the name of Jesus, as a pilgrim of reconciliation and of peace,” the pope said.
“I have greatly desired to be here, and now, at last, I have come to bring you the closeness, the affection, and the consolation of the entire Catholic Church.”
Violence in eastern DRC has created a severe humanitarian crisis, with more than 5.5 million people displaced from their homes, the third-highest number of internally displaced people in the world.
Pope Francis is scheduled to meet with victims of violence from the eastern part of the country on Feb. 1 in Kinshasa following a Mass that is expected to draw 2 million people. Roughly half of the 90 million people in the DRC are Catholic.
“I am here to embrace you and to remind you that you yourselves are of inestimable worth, that the Church and the pope have confidence in you, and that they believe in your future, the future that is in your hands, your hands,” Francis emphasized, “and for which you deserve to devote all your gifts of intelligence, wisdom, and industry.”
The pope added: “The heavenly Father wants us to accept one another as brothers and sisters of a single family and to work for a future together with others, and not against others.”
God, he said, “is always on the side of those who hunger and thirst for justice. One must never tire of promoting law and equity everywhere, combating impunity and the manipulation of laws and information.”