One million flock to Pope’s Congo Mass on day of peace and forgiveness
An estimated one million Congolese people have poured into the capital’s main airport for Pope Francis’ first big Mass in Africa, on a day dedicated to his call for peace and forgiveness in a country wracked by decades of violence.
Many of the faithful spent the night on the vast airfields of Kinshasa’s Ndolo airport ahead of the first papal visit to the overwhelmingly Christian country since St John Paul II’s last trip in 1985.
The crowds cheered wildly when Francis began a languid loop around the airfields in his open-sided popemobile, some of them running alongside or waving flags.
Many of the women wore dresses and skirts made of pagne, a wax print fabric featuring images of Francis or other religious symbols.
The Wednesday morning Mass was Francis’ first big event in the Democratic Republic of the Congo after he arrived on Tuesday and, in his opening speech to government authorities, condemned the centuries-long plundering of Africa’s mineral and natural wealth by foreign powers.
Later on Tuesday, Francis was to meet with victims of the fighting in Congo’s east, where rebel groups have intensified attacks over the past year as they seek to expand their territory.
Francis had originally planned to visit the North Kivu provincial capital, Goma, but had to cancel the stop due to the fighting that has forced some 5.7 million people to flee their homes, exacerbating a humanitarian crisis in Congo where already some 26.4 million people were facing hunger, according to the World Food Programme.
Fighting in eastern Congo, which has more than 120 armed groups, has simmered for years but spiked in late 2021 with the resurgence of the M23 group, which had been largely dormant for nearly a decade.
The rebels have captured swathes of land and are accused by the United Nations and rights groups of committing atrocities against civilians.
On Tuesday, Francis condemned the fighting and was to repeat his call for peace during his meeting with victims of the conflict.
The appointment was to include a joint call for the victims to pardon their assailants, according to Vatican organisers.
The Vatican estimated that one million people were on hand for Francis’ Mass, citing local officials.
The airport fields had a capacity of 1.5 million people and were not full by the time Francis’ Mass began.
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