Exploitation, deforestation, global warming, violence, bloodshed: on his multi-day trip to Africa, the Pope addresses the issues that are shaking the continent. Francis is not overtaken here by the home-grown problems of the Catholic Church.
During his visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pope Francis condemned "economic colonialism" in Africa. "Political exploitation gave way to economic colonialism that was just as enslaving," said the 86-year-old leader of the Catholic Church during a speech at the presidential palace in the capital, Kinshasa. "As a result, this country, which has been massively plundered, has not benefited adequately from its vast resources," he told Congolese politicians and other dignitaries in Italian. "Stop suffocating Africa: it's not a mine to be exploited or a territory to be plundered," he added to applause.
This message should go down well in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The country gained independence from Belgium in 1960. Despite enormous deposits of minerals, wood and fresh water, the country is one of the poorest in the world. Two-thirds of the population live on less than $2.15 a day. In addition, the largest Catholic country in Africa, with 100 million inhabitants, has been rocked by violent clashes between armed groups and the army for years.
Pope Francis also addressed regional peace efforts, saying there must be no habituation to a "bloodshed that has plagued this country for decades." He also underlined the importance of "free, transparent and credible elections". "May no one be manipulated, let alone bought, by those who seek to foment violence in the country and exploit it to conduct nefarious deals," the pope said. Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi, who was present, came to power after a highly controversial election in 2018. New presidential elections are planned for December of this year, in which Tshisekedi will again be a candidate.
The Pope had landed in Kinshasa in the afternoon. "We've been waiting for this for a year, it's a wonderful journey," the 86-year-old told journalists on board the plane. The trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan was originally planned for July 2022 but was postponed because of Francis' knee problems.
A crowd had already gathered in front of Kinshasa airport in the morning to greet the Pope, who was to be taken to the city center about 25 kilometers away in his "Popamobile". "He preaches peace wherever he goes, and we really need peace," said 30-year-old Maggie Kayembe. In the evening, tens of thousands were expected to attend a prayer service at N'dolo airport. On Wednesday, the Pope will hold an open-air mass in Kinshasa, to which around a million people are expected.
Francis will stay in the country for four days and continue his African journey in South Sudan on Friday. A planned visit to Goma in eastern Congo was canceled for security reasons. Dozens of armed militias are active there. When the machine coming from Rome was over the Sahara, the Pope said a prayer for the refugees who had lost their lives: "Let us think in silence, pray a prayer for all the people who are looking for prosperity and freedom crossed the desert and didn't survive," he said. Every year thousands of people from Africa try to cross the Sahara and then come to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. Many of them die in the process.
It is the fifth trip to the African continent for the Pope, who is in a wheelchair. At around a dozen meetings, speeches and masses, the Argentine Jesuit wants to pray for peace in the two crisis-ridden countries and address issues such as deforestation and global warming.