The Holy Father's visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo was an event rich in graces and blessings. For some, a deep desire became reality; for others, the outcome of a long period of waiting filled with hope; for others still, the fulfillment of their prayers. It was indeed an unprecedented opportunity to receive for the third time a Pontiff on Congolese territory.
On January 31, 2023, we experienced the immense joy of welcoming Pope Francis to Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This joy was not limited to faithful Catholics, but for all of the Congolese people who were impatiently waiting for this great event.
Everyone was ready, starting in the morning, waiting for the landing of the ITA airways plane, emblazoned with the flags of the Holy See, floating down in the sweet atmosphere of the airport of Ndjili, and covered with jubilation. From the airport to the city center, applause and cries of joy erupted from thousands of Congolese at the arrival of the Pontiff, accompanied by the song: "Boyeyi bolamu o mboka Congo" ("Welcome to Congo").
After the welcoming ceremony at the airport, the Pope went to the National Palace for an official meeting with the President of the Republic. In his speech to the civil and political authorities, the Holy Father spoke of the various ills affecting the Congo and Africa. "Have courage, Congolese brothers and sisters! Rise up and take in your hands, like a very pure diamond, what you are, your dignity, your calling to keep your house in harmony and peace," he said. "This country and this continent deserve to be respected and listened to, they deserve space and attention: take your hands off the Democratic Republic of Congo, take your hands off Africa! Stop stifling Africa: it is not a mine to exploit nor a land to rob. Let Africa be the protagonist of its own destiny," the Pontiff pleaded.
In his various speeches, we felt a deep compassion, like that of a father towards his children. His visit to the Congo is a relief and an encouragement for all Congolese. Appalling suffering is taking place in the eastern part of the country, where our brothers and sisters are dying every day, an anguish in our hearts. For this reason, he was visibly saddened by the accounts given by the many victims of the armed violence in the east of the country. "Your tears are my tears, your suffering is my suffering," he assured them, while taking it upon himself to ask "forgiveness for the violence of man towards man”.
In front of more than a million faithful who participated in the Eucharistic celebration on February 1 at the Ndolo airfield in Kinshasa, Pope Francis focused his homily on peace. This is possible thanks to the strength of forgiveness, the strength of the community, and the strength of the mission. He recalled that he is the defender of the poor and of those who suffer. We hope that this message of peace will remain in our hearts and will challenge those who can act so that peace returns to the DRC.
In the morning of Thursday, February 2, the Holy Father met with young people and catechists at the Martyrs' Stadium; the pastor of the Universal Church exhorted the young people to reject corruption, because the future of the country is in their hands. He proposed five ingredients to them, like the five fingers of the hand, to build the future of the DRC.
- The thumb for prayer;
- The index finger for the community;
- The middle finger for honesty;
- The ring finger for forgiveness; and
- The little finger for service.
In the afternoon of February 2, 2023, in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Congo, the Pope met with seminarians, priests, religious men and women, and all consecrated persons. In his speech, he returned to the many challenges of the Congolese Church and recalled the importance of serving the people as a witness of God's love. Despite the "difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions" in which the Congolese Church carries out its mission, "there is also much joy in the service of the Gospel and vocations to consecrated life are numerous," the Pope stressed. "To live our vocation, we always have temptations to overcome," he continued. These are the three challenges he raised: "Spiritual mediocrity, worldly comfort, and superficiality.”
Overcoming spiritual mediocrity requires first of all a life nourished by prayer. "The secret of everything is prayer because the ministry we do does not depend on us, but on the Lord. The second challenge is to overcome the temptation of worldly comfort. This worldliness, which makes us seek our own comfort above all else, causes us to lose the heart of our mission, which is to go beyond the territories of the self to reach out to our brothers and sisters, exercising our ministry in God's name. Finally, the third challenge is to overcome the temptation of superficiality. If the people of God are waiting to be reached and comforted by the word of the Lord, they need priests and religious who are prepared, formed and passionate about the Gospel. Hence, formation is a path to be pursued constantly, throughout one's life.
At the end, the Pope thanked us for our service and for our pastoral enthusiasm. He blessed us and promised to carry us in his heart. Finally, he asked us to pray for him. We say thank you to God, who allowed His servant to make his journey to our country. May His name be praised.
Sister Noël MAZIKU RSCJ