Pope Francis has warned world leaders as well as combative communities to stop profiteering from Africa’s extensive natural resources and robbing the continent of a “future of peace and prosperity.”
In a stirring speech shortly after he landed in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, at the start of a six-day trip to two African nations on January 31, Francis said: “Hands off the Democratic Republic of the Congo! Hands off Africa! Stop choking Africa: It is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered.”
It was the first time since Pope John Paul traveled to Congo in 1985 that the head of the Roman Catholic world visited the resource-rich country, formerly known as the Republic of Zaire. About half of Congo’s overwhelmingly Christian population of about 102 million people is Catholic—and tens of thousands of people cheered, danced and waved banners to welcome the pope.
The pontiff spoke at the presidential palace, where he called on foreign powers as well as Congo’s own political leaders to end the vicious circle of violence and civil war that has plagued the country for much of its modern history.
“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,” the pontiff said. The DRC, he lamented, has also been the victim of a “forgotten genocide.”
On February 2, Francis delivered another speech—this time in Kinshasa’s Martyrs Stadium—in which he denounced the “cancer of corruption” and urged Congolese to work for a future based on honesty.
“If someone offers you an envelope with a bribe, or promises you favors and lots of money, do not fall into the trap,” the pope told the 65,000-strong audience at the sports stadium. Many of them cheered as he added: “Do not be deceived! Do not be sucked into the swamp of evil!”
In 2022, Transparency International, which monitors worldwide corruption, ranked Congo 164th among 180 countries (the lower the number, the worse the perception of corruption) on the organization’s “corruption perception index.”
Francis is scheduled February 3 to leave Congo for South Sudan, where a severe civil war sparked by a 2013 political dispute has resulted in nearly 400,000 casualties and widespread destruction.
The pope will be accompanied in South Sudan by the head of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Iain Greenshields, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.