Pope arrives in Congo after praying on flight for migrants

Pope Francis greets children as he arrives at the international airport in Kinshasa, Congo, Jan. 31, 2023. (OSV News photo/Vatican Media vis Reuters)


KINSHASA, Congo (CNS) – After flying across the equator, Pope Francis was welcomed warmly – in every sense – to Congo where Catholics make up the majority of the population and where, for decades, the Catholic Church has been at the forefront of efforts to bring peace, education and health care to the people.

During the seven-hour flight from Rome to Kinshasa on Janaury 31, the Pope told reporters he was happy finally to be able to make the trip, even though “I had wanted to go to Goma” in the east, “but with the war it was not possible”.

Before leaving his residence at the Vatican, Pope Francis met with nine refugees from Congo and South Sudan, where he will travel on February 3. The refugees are assisted in Rome by the Jesuit Refugee Service’s Centro Astalli.

About two hours into the flight, when the chartered plane was flying over the Sahara Desert, the Pope led everyone on the plane in a moment of silent prayer for all those who, “seeking a bit of well-being, a bit of freedom”, felt forced to try to cross the desert “but did not make it”.

Too often, he said, they end up being thrown into “lagers,” detention centres in Libya, “and suffer there. Let us pray for them”.

Leaving Italy, the Pope sent a telegram to Italian President Sergio Mattarella explaining that he was making the trip “moved by a deep desire to meet brothers and sisters in the faith and the inhabitants of those dear nations, bringing a message of peace and reconciliation.”

In addition to cardinals from the Secretariat of State, the Dicastery for Evangelisation and the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, Pope Francis included in his official entourage Congolese Sister Rita Mboshu Kongo, a theologian and member of the Daughters of Mary Most Holy.

The Pope has referred to Sister Mboshu Kongo as the “bishop” of the Congolese community in Rome “because the mission of a bishop is to serve” and that is what she does.

A bishop’s role, she told Vatican News on the eve of the trip, “is not to command and give orders, but to say to the others, ‘Let’s get up and walk together.'”

She said she thought the Pope invited her to join the entourage for some on-the-job training, as if to say, “‘Look, daughter, at how I act, and you must do the same with your brothers and your sisters.’ I have so much to learn.”

“For us, Pope Francis is an untiring missionary, a card-carrying evangeliser who is visiting our country to pray with and for the Congolese,” she said. “He is like a father who has heard the screams and cries of his children and says, ‘Don’t give up. Continue. God is with you.'”

The wounds of Congo and its people are deep, she said. “There are criminals who continue to slaughter the innocent without pity. There are people without scruples who want to grab strategic minerals.”

“The pope is going to denounce and announce,” Sister Mboshu Kongo said. “He will denounce the evil so that those who foment war will renounce their diabolical ways, and he will proclaim Jesus Christ, light of the world.”

The people of Congo are more precious than any of the gems or minerals found in the earth beneath their feet, yet they have been slaughtered by warmongers and exploited by prospectors, Pope Francis said on January 31 at a meeting with Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi, other government and political leaders, diplomats and representatives of civil society.

“This country, so immense and full of life, this diaphragm of Africa, struck by violence like a blow to the stomach, has seemed for some time to be gasping for breath,” the Pope said.

Poverty, internal displacement, crime and violence plague the Congolese people. The United Nations and human rights organisations say more than 100 armed groups are operating in the country, sowing terror particularly in the east.

Tens of thousands of people lined the streets from the airport to the city centre, cheering as the Pope passed by in the popemobile. Many children and teens were dressed in their school uniforms, parishioners proudly held banners welcoming the Pope in the name of their communities and many of the women wore brightly coloured cotton dresses with images of the Pope.

President Tshisekedi told the Pope that the welcome and harmony that had characterized Congo for centuries has, in the past 30 years, “been undermined by the enemies of peace as well as terrorist groups, mainly from neighbouring countries.”

“Indeed,” he told the Pope, with “the inaction and silence of the international community, more than 10 million people have had been their lives taken from them atrociously. Innocent women, even pregnant ones, are raped and disembowelled, young people and children have their throats slit, families, the elderly and children are condemned to brave fatigue and exhaustion, wandering far from their homes in search of peace because of the atrocities committed by these terrorists in the service of foreign interests”, who want to exploit the countries natural resources.

Pope Francis, responding to the president, added that Congo is suffering from a “forgotten genocide”, one the world must recognize.

Returning to his prepared text, the Pope chose diamonds as the key image in his first speech in Congo, insisting that “you, all of you, are infinitely more precious than any treasure found in this fruitful soil!”

In a speech frequently interrupted by applause and shouts of “Amen,” the Pope urged the Congolese people to demand the respect they deserve; he pleaded with the country’s political leaders to put the common good ahead of greed and a lust for power; and he begged the international community to help Congo, not plunder it.

“Diamonds are usually rare,” he said, “yet here they are abundant.”

“If that is true of the material wealth hidden in the soil, it is even more true of the spiritual wealth present within your hearts,” he said. “For it is from hearts that peace and development are born, because, with God’s help, men and women are capable of justice and of forgiveness, of concord and reconciliation, of commitment and perseverance in putting to good use the many talents they have received.”

Every person in Congo has a part to play, Pope Francis insisted.

Photo: Pope Francis greets children as he arrives at the international airport in Kinshasa, Congo, Jan. 31, 2023. (OSV News photo/Vatican Media vis Reuters)


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Reader Interactions


  1. Dr.Cajetan Coelho says

    Migrants and refugees are ambassadors of the Good News. Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and several apostles and disciples were migrants.

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