Pope Francis has held a public mass before an estimated one million people in Kinshasa as he continues his trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The mass took place on a temporary stage at the airport in the capital city during a public holiday. Children wearing First Communion dresses danced, choirs performed and crowds waved flags and sang.
During the mass, Pope Francis – who has been repeating messages of peace while calling for rich countries to stop exploiting Africa – told the crowds that it is God’s message to “lay down your arms”.
“We need to believe that we Christians are called to co-operate with everyone, to break the cycle of violence, to dismantle the machinations of hatred,” the pope (86) said.
Nearly half of the DRC’s roughly 100 million citizens are Catholic.
Pope Francis arrived in Kinshasa on Tuesday, when he travelled to the presidential palace to meet officials, diplomats, and civil society representatives. During a subsequent speech he condemned “economic colonialism”, which he said has resulted in the DRC being “massively plundered”. The country is one of the world’s richest in terms of minerals, but more than 60 per cent of its people were living on less than €2 a day in 2021, according to the World Bank.
Eastern DRC has experienced decades of conflict between dozens of armed groups, resulting in millions of deaths.
“Political exploitation gave way to an economic colonialism that was equally enslaving,” Pope Francis said. “It is a tragedy that these lands, and more generally the whole African continent, continue to endure various forms of exploitation.” He also decried “the poison of greed”.
“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,” he said.
On Wednesday, the pontiff tweeted: “May Africa be the protagonist of its own destiny!”
DRC president Felix Tshisekedi said that the Congolese welcomed the papal visit with “joy and gladness”, as they had the last pope to visit the country: Pope John Paul II, in 1985. He also used the opportunity to criticise neighbouring Rwanda, which he said is supporting “foreign powers eager for the minerals of our subsoil” to commit “cruel atrocities”. Rwanda has denied the allegations.
Pope Francis was initially scheduled to do the trip last year, but had to postpone because of problems with his knee.
He will continue on to South Sudan on Friday: another country that has been wracked by conflict.
The DRC and South Sudan are among the six most insecure African countries to live in, according to a new report by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.