Inside Kinshasa’s Notre-Dame du Congo cathedral, faithful flock to displays where sellers of religious items add to vestments stamped with the pope, T-shirts and loincloths emblazoned with a portrait of Pope Francis.
The large orange brick building is one of six venues selected for meetings, speeches and public events planned for the Argentine pope’s four-day visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital on January 31.
This is the first papal visit to the Congo since John Paul II’s visit in 1985, more than 37 years ago.
Elisabeth Akwete, 66, who just got the calendar with the Pope’s image, says proudly, “It’s a joy to have a picture of the head of the church at home.”
Berthe came to Baleweya to buy a specially printed piece of “wax” (cloth) that “catholic mothers” fought for. “I must wear my father’s face because it will be a great blessing,” he said.
Other women, such as Emmanuelle Wemu, have already made the pope’s loincloth. “We are very happy to receive him, I expect from him a message of love, forgiveness, reconciliation at a time when the DRC is suffering (…),” he says. Army of Little Angels”, a group that controls small children.
“We ask the children to pray for the pope, he was sick” and now “he will come to our house,” he rejoices.
– Conflicts in the East –
The trip, originally planned for July, was postponed by six months. The Vatican has addressed the 86-year-old Pope’s knee pain, but some media outlets have also highlighted the risks to his safety, particularly in Goma, the capital of North Kivu state in the country’s east, where he has suffered for nearly 30 years. years of violence by armed groups.
The scene in the east is no longer on the agenda of the Pope, who will meet “victims of the conflict” in the region in Kinshasa.
Others, like Josee Muyumbana, who returned from “praying for the pope’s arrival” at a church in the city, “will watch everything from Goma. But it’s still a great pity not to see it. The youth coordinator of the Diocese of Goma, Gélo Mandela, says: “The young people here are desperate, we were well prepared.”
Emmanuelle Wemu is hoping for “reconciliation with Rwanda”, accused by the DRC of supporting the M23 rebels who have seized large areas north of Goma.
Diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions have not yielded conclusive results, and fighting continues, while other armed groups continue to massacre civilians.
On January 15, an attack on an evangelical Protestant church in North Kivu, attributed to a group affiliated with Islamic State jihadists, killed about fifteen people. The same militias are accused of killing at least 23 villagers on Monday, with IS claiming the latest killing.
This group has so far only operated in eastern DRC, about 1,500 km from the capital Kinshasa. But the Pope’s safety worries the organizers of his visit to this sprawling capital of about 15 million people. On this occasion, some major veins have been cleaned and purified.
– 1.5 million people –
Justine-Marie Bayala, a convert to Catholicism, attended Sunday’s service, where the priest gave a detailed program of the final preparations and the Pope’s stay. “We dare to believe that it will bring us lasting peace” and “solve many problems (…) on a political, economic and even spiritual level.”
A triduum of prayer is planned at the church from January 26, as well as a vigil at the Ndolo military airport on the night of February 31-1, where the Pope will celebrate Mass in the morning. Notre-Dame du Congo.
Between 1 million and 1.5 million people are expected to occupy this eight-hectare site, where workers are putting the final touches on the “pope’s tribune.” “That day, rain or shine, will be an event,” said Jesus-Noël Sheke, AFP’s technical coordinator of the works.
Banners and giant panels compete with messages of welcome on the streets of Kinshasa and in front of Catholic institutions.