KINSHASA, Congo (AFP) – Pope Francis demanded Tuesday that foreign powers stop plundering Africa’s natural resources for “the poison of their greed” upon his arrival in Congo, greeted by Congolese with boisterous gratitude as he focused the world’s attention on their forgotten plight. .
Tens of thousands of people lined the main road into the capital Kinshasa to welcome Francis after he landed at the airport, some standing three or four people deep, children in school uniforms in the front row.
“The pope is 86, but he came anyway. It is a sacrifice he will not forget,” said Sultan Ntamboye, a bank agent in his 30s, as he waited for Francis to arrive in a scene reminiscent of some of Francis’s earlier trips to countries with similar Catholic density. Congolese it.”
Francis first plunged into his agenda upon his arrival, decrying the centuries-long exploitation of Africa by colonial powers, today’s multinational extractive industries, and the interference of neighboring countries in the affairs of the Congo, which led to the escalation of fighting in the east.
Hands off the Democratic Republic of the Congo! Hands off Africa! In his opening address to Congolese government authorities and the diplomatic corps in the garden of the National Palace in Kinshasa, Francis said he applauded in his inaugural address.
Calling the Congo’s vast mineral and natural wealth a “diamond of creation,” Francis demanded that foreign interests stop carving up the country for their own interests and recognize their role in the economic “enslavement” of the Congolese people.
“Stop strangling Africa: it is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered,” said the first pope in Latin American history, who has long criticized how rich countries exploited the resources of the poor. them for their own profit.
The six-day trip, which also includes a stopover in South Sudan, was originally scheduled for July, but was postponed due to Francis’ knee problems, which were still so serious on Tuesday that he could not stand to welcome reporters aboard. The Plane. He went to Kinshasa and forced him to use a wheelchair on the earth.
It was also supposed to include a stop at Goma, in eastern Congo, but the surrounding North Kivu region has been plagued by heavy fighting between the government. and the M23 rebel group, as well as attacks by militants linked to the Islamic State.
The fighting has displaced some 5.7 million people, a fifth of them last year alone, according to the World Food Programme.
Instead of traveling there, Francis will meet a delegation from the east, which will travel to Kinshasa for a private meeting at the Vatican embassy on Wednesday. The plan calls for them to participate in a ceremony in which they jointly commit to pardoning their attackers.
Sylvie Mfita, an economics student in Kinshasa, said the pope’s arrival would focus the world’s attention and television cameras on Congo and the fighting in the east to show how the rest of the world has forgotten its suffering.
This will allow the world to discover the atrocities of which our brothers in the east of the country are victims. And maybe for once, the little humanity left in some people will cause an awakening and the international community will not only care about what is happening in Ukraine, but also about what is happening in this country,” she said.
President Felix Tshisekedi expressed a similar stance in his address to the Pope, accusing the international community of forgetting the Congo and its complicit “inaction and silence” about the atrocities taking place in the east.
“In addition to armed groups, foreign powers eager to obtain minerals in the ground are committing brutal atrocities with the direct and cowardly support of our neighbor Rwanda, making security the first and biggest challenge for the government,” he said.
Rwanda has been accused of supporting the M23 rebels in Congo, which it has repeatedly denied.
Francis’ harsh words initially set the tone for the trip, as the pope aims to deliver a message of peace, warn the international community not to look the other way, and recognize that Africa is the future of Catholicism. church.
The Continent is one of the only places on earth where the Catholic flock is growing, both in terms of the practice of sincere and new vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
Congo stands out as the African country with the most Catholics: half of its 105 million inhabitants are Catholics, and the country is home to more than 6,000 priests, 10,000 nuns and more than 4,000 seminarians – 3.6% of the global total for young people studying for the priesthood.
This makes Francis’ trip, his fifth to the African continent in his 10-year pontificate, all the more significant as the Jesuit pope seeks to remake the Church as a “field hospital for wounded souls,” where all are welcome, the poor have a special place of pride and rivals are called to make peace.
Aid groups had hoped Francis’ six-day visit would highlight the forgotten conflicts in Congo and South Sudan and their growing humanitarian costs, and renew international interest amid donor fatigue set in over new aid priorities in Ukraine.
Francis heeded their call, pointing the finger at the role colonial powers like Belgium played in exploiting the Congo until the country, 80 times the size of Belgium, gained independence in 1960, and is played by neighboring countries today.
Francis did not identify Belgium or any neighboring country by name, but spared no word of condemnation, quoting Tshisekedi as saying there was a “forgotten genocide” underway.
“The poison of greed has stained diamonds with blood,” said Francis. “I hope that the world will acknowledge the disastrous things that have happened over the centuries at the expense of the local peoples, and not forget this country and this continent.”
“We cannot get used to the bloodshed that has engulfed this country for decades, which has caused the death of millions of people, most of whom remain unknown elsewhere,” he said.
At the same time, he urged the Congolese authorities to act for the common good rather than tribal, ethnic or personal interests; Ending child labor and investing in education so that Congo’s “most precious diamond” can shine.
Congolese faithful have been flocking to Kinshasa for Francis’ main event, a mass on Wednesday at Ndulu airport that is expected to draw up to two million people in one of the largest gatherings of its kind in Congo and one of the largest Francis masses ever.
Banners adorned with the Pope’s image bore messages including “Pope Francis, the city of Kinshasa welcomes you with joy.”
Some women wore colorful dresses and skirts made of pani, a wax-printed fabric with images of Francis, the Virgin Mary, or the Vatican keys, in a ceremonial sign of welcome.
Jean-Louis Mobina, 47, said he walked about 45 minutes to Kinshasa airport before the pope arrived on Tuesday.
“He came as a pilgrim sent by God,” said Mobina. “His blessings give us peace in our hearts.”
Christina Malkia in Kinshasa, and Christa Larsson in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report.
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