KINSHASA, Congo — In a country where most people are Christian and all are suffering from decades of violence and atrocities, Pope Francis told the Congolese to lay down their weapons and their rancor.
“That 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,” the pope said in his homily Feb. 1 during a Mass on the vast field of Ndolo airport in Kinshasa.
Congolese authorities said more than 1 million people attended the Mass. They arrived as the sun began to rise, dressed up and carrying baskets of food. They sang and danced and prayed as they waited for the pope.
Many in the crowd, especially the women, wore cotton dresses with fabric printed specifically for the papal visit. One version featured the face of the pope wearing a miter. The other, with a more abstract design, had the logo of the papal trip and the theme — “All reconciled in Jesus Christ” — written in French, Kituba, Lingala and Swahili.
In his homily, Pope Francis spoke to the pain and suffering of the Congolese people, but most of the people in the crowd said the joy of the pope visiting their country was all they cared about that morning.
The Gospel at the Mass was St. John’s account of Jesus appearing to the disciples after the resurrection and telling them, “Peace be with you.”
Pope Francis pointed out how when the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples, He did not pretend that nothing traumatic had happened. In fact, “Jesus showed them His wounds.”
“Forgiveness is born from wounds,” the pope told them. “It is born when our wounds do not leave scars of hatred but become the means by which we make room for others and accept their weaknesses.”
Jesus “knows your wounds; He knows the wounds of your country, your people, your land,” the pope said. “They are wounds that ache, continually infected by hatred and violence, while the medicine of justice and the balm of hope never seem to arrive.”
The first step toward healing, he said, must be asking God for forgiveness and for the strength to forgive others. It’s the only way to lighten the burden of pain and tame the desire for revenge.
To every Congolese Christian who has engaged in violence, “the Lord is telling you: ‘Lay down your weapons, embrace mercy,’” the pope said. “And to all the wounded and oppressed of this people, He is saying: ‘Do not be afraid to bury your wounds in mine.’”
Another thing, he said, “Why not write those words of His on your walls, wear them on your clothing, and put them as a sign on your houses: ‘Peace be with you!’ Displaying these words will be a prophetic statement to your country, and a blessing of the Lord upon all whom you meet.”
Christians are called to be “missionaries of peace,” Pope Francis said. They are called to be witnesses of God’s love for all people, “not concerned with their own rights, but with those of the Gospel, which are fraternity, love and forgiveness.”
Victims of violence in Congo share their grief with pope
KINSHASA, Congo — Several victims of violence in eastern Congo told Pope Francis horrifying stories of watching their families being slaughtered or of being kidnapped or raped repeatedly by militia members.
Ladislas Kambale Kombi, 16, said he watched his father being hacked to pieces with a machete and his mother being kidnapped, leaving him alone with his two little sisters. “Mom hasn’t come back. We don’t know what they did with her.”
Léonie Matumaini, an elementary school student, said she watched militia members stab her family; then, she said, they gave her the knife and dared her to bring it to the army.
Kambale Kakombi Fiston, 13, was kidnapped and held for nine months. He asked the pope to pray for children still captive in the forest.
Pope Francis had planned to go to Goma in the violence-torn North Kivu province, but increased fighting forced him to cancel the trip to the East to protect the crowds that would gather to see him. Instead, the pope invited about 40 victims of violence in the East to share their stories with him in the apostolic nunciature in Kinshasa Feb. 1.
The testimonies, Pope Francis said, leave listeners without words. “We can only weep in silence.”
But he did use the meeting to express his closeness to all the people disappointed that he was not traveling to Goma and, especially, to “condemn the armed violence, the massacres, the rapes, the destruction and the looting” that continue to sow terror in the lives of the people of Congo. “Put away your weapons, put an end to war. Enough,” he told those responsible.