Songs, dances, cheers and banners: more than a million people, according to the authorities, gathered in Kinshasa on Wednesday for a giant mass by Pope Francis, on the second day of his visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Many faithful arrived on Tuesday evening on the tarmac of Ndolo airport, in the east of the capital, to spend the night there before this open-air mass presided by the Argentinian Jesuit, eagerly awaited in the country.
Arrived in a "popemobile", the pope greeted the crowd who cheered him with flags and traditional songs in an overexcited atmosphere, under a bright sun and an important security device.
"When the Pope (John Paul II) came for the first time it was history, I was 15, today I am 55, so attending a first papal mass is very important", told AFP Adrien Louka, who arrived before dawn.
"As our country has many problems, it is reconciliation that we seek and the pope will give a message so that the countries around us leave us in peace!" he adds, wearing a colorful shirt with the logo of the papal visit on the back.
In his homily in Italian, translated into French, the sovereign pontiff first wished peace to the faithful in Lingala, one of the four national languages of the DRC. He then invited them to "not give in to divisions" in the face of the "wounds" of the country.
For his first speech on Tuesday in the capital of the largest Catholic country in Africa, Jorge Bergoglio denounced the "economic colonialism" which "is unleashed" in this country with an immense wealth underground and fertile land, but of which two-thirds of the approximately 100 million inhabitants live below the poverty line.
“Stop suffocating Africa: it is not a mine to be exploited nor a land to be plundered,” the pope told the authorities and the diplomatic corps at the presidential palace.
Upon his arrival, he was greeted with popular jubilation by tens of thousands of people massed along the main avenues of the megalopolis of some 15 million inhabitants.
Meeting with victims
Another highlight of this stage in Kinshasa, the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church will meet Wednesday afternoon with victims of violence in the east of the country.
François was initially due to go to Goma, in North Kivu, a Congolese province bordering Rwanda plagued by numerous violence and the resurgence of the armed group M23 which has conquered large swaths of the territory in recent months.
But this stage, which appeared in the trip planned for July 2022 and then postponed because of the knee pain of the 86-year-old pope, was finally canceled due to security risks, deemed too great.
Eastern DRC has dozens of other armed groups, including Islamist rebels who target civilians.
On Tuesday, the pope "encouraged the ongoing peace processes" so that "commitments are kept". He also mentioned the environment, education, social and health issues, themes to which he should return during his next speeches.
Late Wednesday afternoon, the pope will deliver his third and final speech of the day to representatives of charities.
This is Francis' fortieth international trip since his election in 2013, and his fifth to the African continent. After Kinshasa, on Friday he will join Juba, capital of South Sudan, the youngest state in the world and among the poorest on the planet.
The Editorial Board (with AFP)