Great excitement in DR Congo for Pope Francis' visit

Posters, gadgets and 'Bienvenue Pape François' flags line the streets of Kinshasa as the Democratic Republic of Congo welcomes Pope Francis at the start of his 40th Apostolic Journey abroad.

By Salvatore Cernuzio - Kinshasa, DRC

"Pape François engumba Kinshasa eyambi yo na esengo."

On the dusty streets of Kinshasa, crushed by the traffic of yellow lorries impeding the passage of women with baskets of fruit on their heads and motorbike taxis with four passengers on board, Pope Francis' face appears everywhere, accompanied by the words 'Bienvenue. Welcome.'

Flags, posters, panels (many with the Pope's face together with those of local politicians), but also stalls with flags, t-shirts and other gadgets celebrate the Pope's arrival, expected on Tuesday at 3 pm, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 37 years after Pope St. John Paul II's visit.

The trip marks the Pope's first Apostolic Journey in 2023, which will continue in South Sudan.

The visit has been long-desired by Pope Francis, and was originally for July 2022, but was postponed for health reasons.

The wounds in country's east

The Pope kept his promise to visit this population of some 100 million people, 49% of whom are Catholics, plagued by endemic poverty that takes the form of worn-down shops and food markets and houses submerged in mud, as well as pollution.

It is, however, in the East that the country's wounds "bleed" the most, where the interests of world powers and wars with neighbouring countries over minerals and ethnic hatreds tear at people's lives.

"Slaughtered people," says a Congolese driver, who, wading through cars more crowded than his capacity and street vendors offering bananas, water bottles, handkerchiefs, selfie sticks and cigarettes, drives from Ndolo airport, the place where the Pope will celebrate Mass on Wednesday, at which nearly 2 million people are expected to attend, to the commune of Gomba.

This area of Kinshasa, considered the 'in' district of the capital, boasts the headquarters of institutions, including the Apostolic Nunciature.

"One of the largest Nunciatures in Africa," explain the residents of the striking colonial building, surrounded by several hectares of garden, which will be the Pope's residence during his stay in Congo until 3 February.

Meeting with the victims: "willing to forgive"

It is precisely in the Nunciature that one of the most significant events of the trip will take place: the meeting with the victims from the eastern area of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This meeting will be followed by a dialogue with volunteers and people assisted by the Church's charitable works.

"They are representatives of the dioceses most scourged by violence. We will hear testimonies of lived life that give the measure of the reality of the country, and we will see people who have internalised all this, but are nevertheless willing to forgive," said Apostolic Nuncio Ettore Balestrero, who will be at the Pope's side during the entire stay in Kinshasa.

“There is a great need for this 'river' of hatred and violence that there is, to enter a larger 'sea,' as the Congo River does. The sea, that is, of justice, which must be done, but also the 'sea' of reconciliation'”

The Archbishop met with Vatican News in the hall where the appointment will take place, adorned with panels and flags.

He explained that, after meeting the victims, Pope Francis will meet representatives of charities operating in the country.

The Nuncio reaffirmed "that the Church is present in all areas of social and educational life."

“Forty percent of healthcare works are run by Catholic personnel. Almost 7 million students attend public schools run by Catholic religious personnel.”

The Pope's embrace will envelop handicapped people, lepers, AIDS patients, people who are deaf or unable to speak, abandoned children, and even contemplative nuns, "because prayer is a very high form of charity," Archbishop Balestrero explained.

"There will be blind children who will sing, and others who attend a school here in Kinshasa and bring back their own experience, that is, what they have experienced from the Catholic charities they have been approached by," he said.

"We will then discover," he continued, "how charity is not only proclaimed but lived and how the flesh of Christ, which, as the Pope teaches us, is all these people, is truly touched, cared for and welcomed by so many people - Congolese, or from outside - who come to give of themselves and spend themselves for the suffering people of this country."

Young people involved in the preparations

Archbishop Balestrero also commented on the anticipation of these hours for the Pope's arrival, with preparations that have been in full swing for weeks that have employed young people, even very young ones, otherwise wandering around, in clubs and casinos or on the streets looking for odd jobs and daily occupations.

"By now it is no longer about waiting but a buzz. People in the streets are singing the song composed especially for the Pope, posters are multiplying, many faithful are arriving from other parts of Congo and neighbouring countries," he said.

A young woman in Kinshasa
A young woman in Kinshasa


The Apostolic Nuncio said that the Pope's presence is "a great consolation" for Congo, "because it is a country that is suffering, it is the victim of so much violence and now, for at least 3-4 days, it feels the Pope is pouring ointment, balm on its wounds that are unfortunately very deep."

"There is also - and this fills me with joy - a Catholic community that really wants to give space to God in its life, but that needs to receive from the Pope a spur to avoid a dichotomy between proclaimed faith and lived life," he continued.

Pope Francis' visit, he said, "can be, indeed will be, a milestone to receive guidelines to evangelise better and deeper."


The Pope will address a similar encouragement to the priests, consecrated and religious whom he will meet on 2 February, in the Cathedral of Notre Dame du Congo, a few metres from the Nunciature.

Arriving by car, a huge vertical banner greets the visitor and is adorned with the logo and motto of the papal journey, covering the entire bell tower.

Two young men climb the scaffolding for the final touches, braving the late afternoon wind.

Below, on the parvis, men with welding machines fix the large white arch that will be adorned with flowers, and groups of women arrange the benches with the gadgets of the visit: mainly T-shirts and flags.

At the sight of the cameras they chant "Karibu kweno Pape!" in Swahili: "You are welcome among us!"

It is a verse from the song composed for the trip.

Among the people is the rector, Father Camille Esika, who says, "In the difficult situation that entire areas are experiencing because of insecurity, the Pope can bring a message of consolation and hope that the situation can change."

“The Catholic Church plays an important role in Congolese society. And in the meeting with the priests, the Pope will be able to encourage them to be good servants and set an example of reconciliation in Christ and between peoples.”

Popemobile that Pope Francis will use in DR Congo
Popemobile that Pope Francis will use in DR Congo

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31 January 2023, 09:52