Pope Francis (L) looks on during the welcome ceremony as he meets with young people and catechists at Martyrs’ Stadium in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), on February 2, 2023. Pope Francis is set to address thousands of youngsters in Democratic Republic of Congo on February 2, 2023 after holding an open-air mass that drew an estimated million faithful, as he pursues a landmark trip to central Africa. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)
(AFP) – Pope Francis on Thursday urged tens of thousands of young people in the Democratic Republic of Congo to work towards a better future and shun corruption in the deeply Catholic country, which is plagued by violence in its east.
The 86-year-old pontiff arrived at Martyrs’ stadium in the capital Kinshasa on his popemobile, offering blessings to an ecstatic crowd, who roared and danced in the stands.
Young people started to flock to the 80,000-capacity stadium overnight. On Thursday, organisers put the size of the crowd at 65,000, on the third day of the Argentine’s visit to Africa’s biggest Catholic country.
About 60 percent of the central African nation of roughly 100 million people are under the age of 20, according to UN figures. As well as conflict, young people face persistent unemployment.
Addressing the stadium, the pope urged the crowd to build a better future for the church and their country.
“You are part of a greater history, one that calls you to take an active role as a builder of communion, a champion of fraternity, an indomitable dreamer of a more united world,” he said.
“Never give in to the persuasive but poisonous temptations of corruption,” he said in Italian, which was translated into the DRC’s official language French.
The pope also asked the crowd to chant ‘no to corruption’ after him.
– Priests on front line –
Later on Thursday, he is due to meet Jesuit leaders and priests on the front line of the church’s work in the DRC.
About 40 percent of the country’s population is Catholic, according to official statistics, and the church retains huge influence despite secularism being enshrined in the constitution.
On Wednesday, the pope hosted a mass at Kinshasa’s airport that organisers said drew about a million people, some of whom had camped out all night to get a spot.
He then met victims of conflict in the DRC’s mineral-rich east, some of whom had suffered appalling violence.
His face grave, Francis called for mercy from God.
“May he convert the hearts of those who carry out brutal atrocities, which bring shame upon all humanity,” he said.
He said the conflict was being driven by greed and called on combatants to lay down their arms.
“Listen to the cry of their blood,” the pope said, alluding to a verse from the Book of Genesis.
Scores of armed groups roam eastern DRC, many of them a legacy of two wars at the end of the 20th century that sucked in countries from around the region.
– ‘Economic colonialism’ –
The DRC is replete with minerals, timber and fresh water, yet remains one of the poorest countries in the world where corruption is entrenched.
On Tuesday, the pope — speaking before an audience of Congolese politicians and other dignitaries — said the DRC had been hamstrung by a long history of exploitation.
“Political exploitation gave way to an economic colonialism that was equally enslaving,” he said.
“As a result, this country, massively plundered, has not benefited adequately from its immense resources.”
Many Congolese warmly welcomed the pope’s message, and some hoped it would bring change.
Francis takes his appeal for peace and reconciliation to South Sudan on Friday for a maiden three-day visit.
Born in 2011 after gaining independence from Sudan, the nation has been battered by a civil conflict that left around 380,000 dead.
The visit to the two countries was initially scheduled for 2022 but had to be postponed because of the pope’s problems with his knee — an affliction that has made him dependent on a wheelchair.
It is his 40th foreign trip since he ascended to the papacy in 2013.
© Agence France-Presse