Pope Francis on Wednesday (Feb. 1) celebrated Mass for about 1 million people, invited Congo’s people to forgive those who committed “inhuman violence” against them, and then heard first-hand of the atrocities some of them have endured.
During the intimate encounter at the Vatican Embassy in Kinshasa, the Pope listened and sought to shine a spotlight on what he called a “forgotten genocide”.
The pontiff also appealed to those who “plunder, scourge and destabilise” the turbulent region to lay down their weapons, on the second day of his visit to the country, Africa’s largest Catholic state.
“You are enriching yourselves through the illegal exploitation of this country’s goods and through the brutal sacrifice of innocent victims,” Pope Francis said, in an address.
“Listen to the cry of their blood,” he added, alluding to a verse from the Book of Genesis in the Bible.
The Pope then called for mercy from God.
Emelda M’karhungulu, a survivor of indescribable evil recounted through her interpreter the ordeal she was put through.
“I was sixteen years old at the time and was held as a sex slave and abused for three months. Every day five to ten men abused each one of us, they forced us to eat maize paste and the flesh of the men had killed.”
‘We want the evil to stop’
One 16-year-old boy, Ladislas Kambale Kombi, recounted how he had seen his father chopped to pieces and his mother kidnapped.
Pope Francis said he was shocked by the stories of “inhumane” violence, adding “Your tears are my tears.”
Violence has wracked eastern Congo for decades as more than 120 armed groups and self-defense militias fight for ore, influence and money.
They often use rape as a weapon of war targeting civilians even with machetes.
In the midst of chaos, residents still only wish for peace.
“We want the evil that has been perpetrated in the eastern province of Ituri to stop, to be punished by law and repaired. We want to live in dignity as sons and daughters of God,” the representative of victims of violence pleaded.
The bishop of Rome was initially due to visit Goma, the biggest city in eastern DRC. However, the resurgence of violence thwarted that plan. Since late 2021 and escalating in 2022, the M23 rebel group has indeed captured swathes of North Kivu province in the east, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes.
“I humbly bow my head and with pain in my heart, I ask God’s forgiveness for man’s violence against man. Father, have mercy on us, console the victims and those who suffer, convert the hearts of those who commit brutal atrocities,” the Pope prayed.
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