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Pope Francis Urges Foreign Powers to 'Stop Choking Africa'

© AFP 2023 / ARSENE MPIANADemocratic Republic of the Congo's President Felix-Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo (R) applauds as Pope Francis delivers a speech in the garden of the Palace of the Nation during the meeting of the authorities, the civil society and the diplomatic corps in Gombe, Kinshasa on January 31, 2023.
Democratic Republic of the Congo's President Felix-Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo (R) applauds as Pope Francis delivers a speech in the garden of the Palace of the Nation during the meeting of the authorities, the civil society and the diplomatic corps in Gombe, Kinshasa on January 31, 2023. - Sputnik International, 1920, 01.02.2023
The Pope started his one-week "ecumenical peace pilgrimage" to Africa on January 31. He is scheduled to stay in Africa until February 5 and will visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan. The tour was initially planned for the summer of 2022, but was postponed due to health reasons.
Pope Francis condemned “the poison of greed” that drives conflicts in Africa and appealed to foreign forces to stop exploiting the continent’s natural resources during his first speech upon arrival in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“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. May Africa be the protagonist of its own destiny!” he said.
After being welcomed by thousands of people who cheered along his way from N'djili airport to the center of the capital, Kinshasa, Pope Francis paid a visit to Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi and met with government authorities, civil society, and the diplomatic corps in the garden of the Palais de la Nation.
In his first address to the nation, Pope Francis urged African people in general, and the Congolese in particular, to take their destiny into their own hands and reject any neocolonial intentions, violence and hatred fueled by foreign powers.

People More Precious Than Diamonds

The DRC holds one of the world's richest deposits of minerals, including diamonds, copper, cobalt, tantalum, lithium and gold. However, those have long been drivers of conflicts between various militant groups, government forces and foreigners, while mining itself has been associated with inhumane exploitation of people and an adverse environmental impact, according to experts.
The pontiff stressed that "greed has smeared its diamonds with blood," and called on the world not to neglect the "catastrophic" atrocities of the past and put to an end the ongoing reckless plundering of natural riches.
Pope Francis stated that it was tragic that the DRC and the whole continent still endure various forms of exploitation – economic and political, which are "equally enslaving," referring to colonial times.

"[The Congolese people] are infinitely more precious than any treasure found in their fruitful soil,” the Pope underscored.

He noted that beyond the abundance of resources, the Congolese people have "spiritual wealth,” which enables them to find the strength to promote "peace and development" in their hearts and reject violence that brings the continent "back to a gloomy past."

World Resigned to Violence in DRC

The country has been suffering from instability and conflicts since the 1990s, with dozens of militant groups still active in the region. According to UN estimates, over 5.6 million people, the largest amount on the continent, are internally displaced in the DRC and many more are on the brink of starvation in connection with the ongoing armed conflict. Pope Francis denounced the international community for its negligence of this issue, saying that it "has practically resigned itself to the violence devouring" the country.
"We cannot grow accustomed to the bloodshed that has marked this country for decades, causing millions of deaths," he said.
Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi expressed a similar point of view in his welcome remarks, saying that because of "the inaction and silence of the international community, more than ten million people have already been atrociously snatched from their lives."
The Pope called to continue and broaden efforts aimed at ensuring development, security and peace in the Central Afrcian nation. He noted that he greatly encourages the current peace process, underlining that it has "to be sustained by concrete deeds, and commitments should be maintained." He also expressed his gratitude to the states and the organizations that are supporting the country and its people, addressing poverty and disease, promoting the rule of law and respect for human rights.
Pope Francis celebrates a prayer for peace in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, inside St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 22.01.2023
Pope to Visit DR Congo to 'Console People' & Heal 'Bleeding Wounds,' Vatican's Envoy Says
The DR Congo is home to the largest Roman Catholic community in Africa. Out of a population of about 95 million people, there are about 45 million Catholics in the country. In this regard, Pope Francis emphasized that religion, as well as civil society and political powers, plays a crucial role in building peace in the region.
As for the relations of the DRC with other countries and global actors, he stated that there is a need for "diplomacy that is authentically human" and focused not on control over land or resources, "expansionism and increased profits, but rather on providing opportunities for people to grow and develop."
President Tshisekedi, for his part, thanked the Pope on behalf of the Congolese nation for the interest and concern he has always demonstrated for the situation in the DRC, for his closeness to the country and for "fervently praying for peace in its eastern provinces."
The Pope was initially expected to visit the city of Goma in eastern DRC, but this leg of the trip was canceled following the resumption of fighting between the country's army and the M23 rebel group, which launched an uprising in 2021 and managed to occupy large territories.
During the second day of the visit, Pope Francis is scheduled to lead Mass at Ndolo Airport in Kinshasa. After that, he will meet with victims in the east of the country and representatives from some charities at the Apostolic Nunciature.
On February 2, he will meet with young people and catechists at the Martyrs' Stadium, and will then head to the Notre Dame du Congo Cathedral for a prayer meeting with priests and deacons. At the end of the day, he will meet with members of the Society of Jesus at the Apostolic Nunciature. Before his departure for the Juba tour, he will hold a meeting with bishops.
Pope Francis' visit to South Sudan, which is the second part of his "pilgrimage of peace" trip, is expected to take place on February 3-5.
Pope Francis looks on during the weekly general audience on January 4, 2023 at Paul-VI hall in The Vatican - Sputnik International, 1920, 30.01.2023
Pope's 'Pilgrimage of Peace' to DR Congo & South Sudan
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