Pope Francis will celebrate Mass in the Democratic Republic of Congo capital Kinshasa on Wednesday, the second day of a visit intended to remind the world of the violence and poverty ravaging the huge central African nation.
Francis arrived in Kinshasa on Tuesday and began his visit with a speech denouncing the “poison of greed” driving conflicts in Africa, saying the rich world had to realise people were more precious than the minerals in the earth beneath them.
He was expected to talk about the themes of violence and reconciliation during his homily at the Mass, scheduled for 0830 GMT at Ndolo Airport and expected to draw more than a million people.
About half of Congo’s population of 90 million are Roman Catholics and the Church plays a vital role in running schools and health facilities, as well as promoting democracy.
Thousands of people spent the night praying at the airport in the build-up to the service.
“I came to pray and to prepare for tomorrow’s prayers, so that God will give me grace to resolve my problems,” said Patrick Mukaba, a 35-year-old lawyer, who was there with his wife Laetitia.
“Our country is rich, as the pope said when he compared it to a diamond, but we the people, who should be benefiting from that wealth, are suffering,” he said.
“The country is not well. There are divisions, hatred, lots of massacres, especially in the east. After the pope’s homily, I hope peace will return.”
Congo has some of the world’s richest deposits of diamonds, gold and other precious metals, but its wealth has stoked conflict between government troops, militias and foreign invaders, as well as driving exploitation and abuses.
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.
The 86-year-old pope will meet victims of violence from the eastern part of Congo later on Wednesday. He will hear their stories and address them. He is also scheduled to meet representatives of some charities.
Thursday will be his last full day in Congo, before he departs for neighbouring South Sudan, another country grappling with conflict and hunger, on Friday morning.