Pope Francis has filled the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with courage before visiting South Sudan. At least, he wanted this and tried it with this bold and prophetic visit to sadly symbolic places, where civil wars and greed for wealth have reached levels of extreme cruelty.
The Pope decided to visit these two of the planet’s hot spots. His legs failed him, but never the will to hold this meeting with the victims of war and injustice. So he had to postpone these visits, but not cancel them. In his wheelchair, he arrived in Kinshasa on 31 January. His talks, as all expected, were clear and incisive. He touched the places where it hurt most, as was necessary and urgent. Everything was surgical: the meetings, the celebrations and the speeches.
In his first speech, to the governments and diplomats, the Pope used diamonds as an image to speak of the best and the worst that mark the daily life of the local people. In this mineral-rich country, the precious stones of pure carbon are at the root of all the tragedies that affect the people. The most radical statement was: “Hands off the Democratic Republic of the Congo! Hands off Africa. Africa must be the protagonist of its own destiny!”: He went on: “Yet if the geography of this verdant lung is so rich and variegated, its history has not been comparably blessed. Torn by war, the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to witness within its confines conflicts and forced migrations, and to suffer from terrible forms of exploitation, unworthy of humanity and of creation. 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”. He went on to say: “your country is truly a diamond of creation; At the same time, you, all of you, are infinitely more precious than any treasure found in this fruitful soil! He then cites the other side of the coin: “More generally the whole African continent, continue to endure various forms of exploitation.” (…). “The poison of greed has smeared its diamonds with blood” (…). “The poison of greed has smeared its diamonds with blood!” . He concluded: “We cannot grow accustomed to the bloodshed that has marked this country for decades, causing millions of deaths that remain mostly unknown elsewhere” (…); the common good and people’s security be pursued, rather than personal or group interests; that the presence of the state in every part of the territory be strengthened; and the many refugees and displaced persons be cared for” (…). “I would like to encourage everyone to undertake a courageous and inclusive social renewal”.
Another highlight was the Mass celebrated at “Ndolo” Airport. In his homily, the Pope repeated his observations and proposals. I recall what struck me most: ‘Jesus points to three wellsprings of peace, three sources from which we can draw as we continue to nurture peace. They are forgiveness, community and mission (…) This is what Christ wants: “He wants to anoint us with his forgiveness, to give us peace and the courage to forgive others in turn, the courage to grant others a great amnesty of the heart. What great good it does us to cleanse our hearts of anger and remorse, of every trace of resentment and hostility!” “we are called to be missionaries of peace, and this will bring us peace. It is a decision we have to make. We need to find room in our hearts for everyone; to believe that ethnic, regional, social, religious and cultural differences are secondary and not obstacles (…). Let us choose to be witnesses of forgiveness, builders of community, people charged with a mission of peace in our world.
What brought Pope Francis to the DRC were the refugees and displaced persons. In the moving meeting in which, in first person, some of the victims from the east and north-east of the country told the Pope of their tragedies, he told them To say “no” to violence, however, it is not enough to avoid acts of violence. We also need to eliminate the roots of violence: greed, envy and, above all, resentment. (…). Have the courage to disarm the heart (…). What is asked of us, in the name of peace, in the name of the God of peace, is to demilitarize our hearts; to remove all venom, reject hatred, defuse greed, erase bitterness. Saying “no” to all these things may seem like weakness, yet in fact it sets us free, for it gives us peace. Yes, peace is born of hearts set free from resentment.
But can there be countries in this world where the people suffer more than in the DRC? There can and there are, unfortunately. This is what the Pope will find on the next stage of this courageous, challenging and prophetic journey. In fact, in the next chronicle we will go to one of them, South Sudan.
Tony Neves, C.S.Sp.