March 29, 2023
Pope Francis sits next to Democratic Republic of Congo's President Felix Tshisekedi as he attends the welcoming ceremony at the Palais de la Nation on the first day of his apostolic journey, in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, January 31, 2023. Simone Risoluti/Vatican Media/Handout via REUTERS

Poison of Greed

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Pope Francis on his Apostolic Journey to the Democratic Republic of Congo calls on rich countries to hands off Africa and its mineral resources

Pope Francis denounced the “poison of greed” driving conflicts in Africa as he began a visit to Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Tuesday, saying the rich world had to realise that people were more precious than the minerals in the earth beneath them.

“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,” Francis said.

People cheer as Pope Francis arrives for his apostolic journey, in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, January 31, 2023. REUTERS/Justin Makangara

Congo has some of the world’s richest deposits of diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, tin, tantalum and lithium, but those have stoked conflict between militias, government troops and foreign invaders. Mining has also been linked to inhumane exploitation of workers, including children, and environmental degradation.

Many tens of thousands of people cheered as he travelled from the airport into the capital Kinshasa in his popemobile, with some breaking away to chase it while others chanted and waved flags. But the joyous mood, one of the most vibrant welcomes of his Apostolic Journeys, turned sombre when the 86-year-old pope spoke to dignitaries at the presidential palace. He condemned “terrible forms of exploitation, unworthy of humanity” in Congo, where vast mineral wealth has fuelled war, displacement and hunger.

“It is a tragedy that these lands, and more generally the whole African continent, continue to endure various forms of exploitation,” the pope said, reading his speech in Italian while seated. People listening to a French translation applauded repeatedly.

People walk next to the billboard of Pope Francis a day ahead of his arrival in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo January 30, 2023. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

Congo has been plagued by violence connected to the long and complex fallout from the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda.

Congo accuses Rwanda of backing the M23 rebel group fighting government troops in the east. Rwanda denies this.

“As well as armed militias, foreign powers hungry for the minerals in our soil commit, with the direct and cowardly support of our neighbour Rwanda, cruel atrocities,” Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi said, speaking just before the pope on the same stage on a hot, muggy afternoon.

The pope did not name Rwanda in his address or take sides in the dispute.

An estimated 5.7 million people are internally displaced in Congo and 26 million face severe hunger, largely because of the impact of armed conflict, according to the United Nations.

Priests line up as they wait for Pope Francis as he starts his apostolic journey, in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, January 31, 2023. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

About half of Congo’s population of 90 million are Roman Catholics and the Church plays a crucial role in running schools and health facilities in the sprawling central African country, as well as promoting democracy.

On Wednesday, Francis will celebrate Mass at a Kinshasa airport that is expected to draw more than a million people. He also will meet victims of violence from the east.

Francis will stay in Kinshasa until Friday morning, when he will fly to South Sudan, another African country grappling with conflict and poverty.

In a first, he will be accompanied for that leg of his journey by the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the global Anglican Communion, and by the Church of Scotland Moderator. The religious leaders have described their joint visit as a “pilgrimage of peace” to the world’s youngest nation.

South Sudan gained independence in 2011 from predominantly Muslim Sudan after decades of conflict. Two years later inter-ethnic conflict spiralled into a civil war that killed 400,000 people. A 2018 deal stopped the worst of the fighting.

Source RT/Reuters/Vatican News Agency

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