The Irish Times view on the Pope’s visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo

The papal visit has shone a light on the terrible violence afflicting the people in the east of the country, from which there seems little hope of escape in the short term.

His heartfelt appeal to the war-torn country – a “forgotten genocide” – was to embrace forgiveness and reconciliation. “For all of you in this country who call yourselves Christians but engage in violence,” Pope Francis said, “the Lord is telling you: ‘Lay down your arms, embrace mercy.’”

To its neighbours and the world Francis appealed, “Hands off the Democratic Republic of the Congo! Hands off Africa! Stop choking Africa: it is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered.”

The pope heard many stories of the terrible violence visited on the people by the prolonged struggle between various rebel groups and militias in the east of the country.

“Brothers and sisters,” Francis said in his homily to over a million rapturous faithful in Kinshasa airport on Wednesday, “we need to find room in our hearts for everyone; to believe that ethnic, regional, social and religious differences are secondary...that others are our brothers and sisters.”


The 86-year-old Pope is the first pontiff to visit DRC, Africa’s second largest country, since John Paul II in 1985 when it was still known as Zaire. About half its population of 105 million people are Catholics.

Despite vast reserves of minerals, timber and fresh water, the DRC remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with two-thirds of the population living on less than $2.15 a day. An estimated 5.7 million people are internally displaced and 26 million face severe hunger, the fallout from a brutal war in the east of the country, North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri.

Rebel groups, some supported by Rwanda and Uganda, pillage villages, steal livestock, murder residents and rape women. Vast rainforests are plundered for gold, cobalt and other resources, partly to pay for weapons. The attacks, notably by the particularly brutal M23 militias, have intensified despite the presence of an 18,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in the region. Several rounds of peace talks have been held in Angola and Kenya, but no progress is reported.