BY: MWANGI MAINA in Kinshasa
Enormous crowds waved at Pope Francis in Kinshasa, the DRC, on Wednesday, as he prepares to deliver his first-ever Mass in the country.
The open-air mass is being held at Ndolo airport, where the Congolese who is who in the political arena are present, including the country’s President Felix Tshisekedi.
This is the first papal visit to the DRC, and could boost the sense of community in the mineral-rich but war-torn nation, where the Catholic Church plays a crucial role in supporting education and healthcare.
It’s been 37 years since the last visit of a Pope to the central African state, and Congo is one of the world’s biggest Catholic following.
Vatican statistics indicate more than 52 million Congolese — about half of the population —are Catholics.
Tens of thousands camped out overnight at the facility ahead of the Mass, which is meant to pray for peace for the wounded but vibrant DRC.
As he arrived, aboard his Pope mobile at the airport, many broke out in cheers and songs.
The Pontiff sat in the modified white vehicle’s seat and waved to onlookers.
Tight security is being maintained in and out of the airport by the military and police.
HANDS OFF DRC, AFRICA
On Tuesday evening, the 86-year-old pontiff denounced “economic colonialism” that he said had plundered the resources of the mineral-rich country.
He said ‘’political exploitation gave way to an economic colonialism that was equally enslaving’’ in the DRC.
“As a result, this country, massively plundered, has not benefitted adequately from its immense resources,’’ he told an audience of Congolese politicians and diplomats.
“Hands off the Democratic Republic of Congo, hands off Africa,’’ he said speaking in Italian.
“…it is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered,’’.
In total disregard of the Pope’s visit, heavy fighting between the Congolese military and the M23 rebels was reported in Kitchanga, a town that is still under control of the rebels.
The military has been trying to recapture this strategic area.
At the Presidential palace on Tuesday, the papal reiterated his support for the regional peace efforts initiated by Nairobi and Luanda.
“The current peace processes, which I greatly encourage, need to be sustained by concrete deeds, and commitments should be maintained,’’ he said.