The World

Pope Francis: "Africa is the smile of the world".

"Do not touch the Democratic Republic of Congo, do not touch Africa. Stop suffocating it, because Africa is not a mine to be exploited or a land to be plundered," said Pope Francis upon his recent arrival in Kinshasa. It was one of his main messages, together with the request that "violence and hatred have no place in the hearts and lips of anyone".

Francisco Otamendi-February 1, 2023-Reading time: 5 minutes
Pope Africa

The Pope and the Congolese President during the meeting with the authorities and the diplomatic corps (CNS photo/Paul Haring).

In his speech before the authorities, representatives of civil society and the world of culture, and the diplomatic corps, in the presence of the president of the Democratic Republic of the CongoFelix Tshisekedi, the Holy Father, as a "pilgrim of reconciliation and peace," opened his heart and acknowledged that "I have longed to be here and I have finally come to bring you the closeness, affection and consolation of the entire Catholic Church. I would like to speak to you through an image that symbolizes well the luminous beauty of this land: that of the diamond".

Indeed, the Pope first addressed the entire country with the figure of the diamond: "Dear Congolese men and women, your country really is a diamond of creation; but you, all of you, are infinitely more valuable than any good that can spring from this fertile soil".

"I am here to embrace you and remind you that you are of inestimable value, that the Church and the Pope have confidence in you; that they believe in your future, in a future that is in your hands and in which you deserve to invest the gifts of intelligence, sagacity and industriousness that you possess," the Pope added.

"Courage, Congolese sisters and brothers," Francis encouraged. "Rise up, take back in your hands, like a pure diamond, what you are, your dignity, your vocation to protect in harmony and peace the house you inhabit. Revive the spirit of your national anthem, dreaming and putting into practice its words: 'Through hard work, we will build a country more beautiful than before; in peace'." 

Hit by violence

In the background of the Pope's words, as is obvious, was the violence that has plagued, and continues to plague the east of the country, but we must not resign ourselves, he asked from DR Congo: "Looking at this people, one has the impression that the international community has almost resigned itself to the violence that devours them. We cannot get used to the blood that has been flowing in this country for decades, causing millions of deaths without many knowing it. Let it be known what is happening here".

"In your country, which is like a continent within the great African continent, it seems as if the whole earth breathes," he continued. "But while the geography of this green lung is rich and varied, history has not been equally generous. The Democratic Republic of Congo, tormented by war, continues to suffer, within its borders, conflicts and forced migrations, and continues to suffer terrible forms of exploitation, unworthy of man and of creation," the Pope stressed.

"This immense country full of life, this diaphragm of Africa, struck by violence like a punch in the stomach, has long seemed to be out of breath. And while you, Congolese, struggle to safeguard your dignity and territorial integrity in the face of deplorable attempts to fragment the country, I come to meet you, in the name of Jesus, as a pilgrim of reconciliation and peace," he said.

Economic Colonialism

Pope Francis denounced in a large part of his address to the Congolese authorities and people the "tragic fact that these places, and more generally the African continent, continue to suffer various forms of exploitation. After political colonialism, an equally enslaving 'economic colonialism' has been unleashed."

"Thus, this country, abundantly depredated, is not able to benefit sufficiently from its immense resources: it has come to the paradox that the fruits of its own land make it a "foreigner" for its inhabitants. The poison of greed has bloodied its diamonds", he stressed.

In the Pope's words, it is "a drama to which the most economically advanced world tends to close its eyes, ears and mouths. However, this country and this continent deserve to be respected and listened to, they deserve space and attention".

"Do not touch the Democratic Republic of Congo, do not touch Africa. Stop suffocating it, because Africa is not a mine to be exploited or a land to be plundered," the Holy Father cried out. "Let Africa be the protagonist of its own destiny. May the world remember the disasters committed over the centuries to the detriment of local populations and not forget this country and this continent."

The Pope then prayed "that Africa, the smile and hope of the world, may become more important; that it may be spoken of more, that it may have more weight and representation among nations. May the way be opened for a diplomacy of man for man, of peoples for peoples, which is not centered on the control of areas and resources, nor on the objectives of expansion and the increase of profits, but on the opportunities for the growth of the people".

"Dear friends, diamonds, which are usually rare, abound here. If this is true with regard to the material riches hidden beneath the earth, it is much more so in reference to the spiritual riches contained in hearts," the Pope affirmed. "And it is precisely from hearts that peace and development remain possible because, with God's help, human beings are capable of justice and forgiveness, of concord and reconciliation, of commitment and perseverance in making the most of the talents they have received."

Transparency, promoting the law

The Pope also referred to general issues in the country: he asked "to favor the holding of free, transparent and credible elections; to further extend participation in peace processes to women, youth and marginalized groups; to seek the common good and the security of the people above personal or group interests; to strengthen the presence of the State throughout the territory; to take care of the many displaced persons and refugees. We must not allow ourselves to be manipulated and bought by those who want to keep the country in violence, to exploit it and make shameful business; this only brings discredit and shame, along with death and misery".

At this point, he quoted St. Augustine: "Centuries ago, St. Augustine, who was born on this continent, was already asking himself: 'If we take justice away from governments, what do they become but bands of thieves on a grand scale?' (De civitate DeiIV, 4). God is on the side of those who hunger and thirst for justice (cf. Mt 5:6). It is important not to tire of promoting law and equity in all areas, opposing impunity and the manipulation of laws and information," he encouraged.

Investing in education

Finally, the Roman Pontiff encouraged the promotion of educational opportunities and investment in education. "The most valuable diamonds of the Congolese soil, who are the children of this nation, must be able to count on solid educational opportunities, which will allow them to make the most of the brilliant talents they possess."

"Education is fundamental, it is the road to the future, the path to be taken to achieve full freedom for this country and the African continent," he said. "It is urgent to invest in it to prepare societies that will only be consolidated if they are well educated, that will be autonomous only if they are fully aware of their potentialities and capable of developing them with responsibility and perseverance. However, many children do not go to school; how many, instead of receiving a decent education, are exploited!

"Too many children are dying, subjected to slave labor in the mines. Let no effort be spared to denounce the scourge of child labor and put an end to it. How many girls are marginalized and their dignity violated! Children, girls, young people are the hope, let us not allow it to be suppressed, but let us cultivate it with passion!"

The Pope celebrates Holy Mass today at Ndolo Airport. In the afternoon he will meet with some victims of violence in the east of the country at the Apostolic Nunciature. Finally, he will meet with representatives of some charities, also at the Nunciature.

The authorFrancisco Otamendi

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