KINSHASA, Feb 2 (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Thursday urged young people in Democratic Republic of Congo to forge a new future without the ethnic rivalry, corruption and distrust that have fuelled so many bloody conflicts in Africa.
Addressing more than 65,000 young people in Martyrs Stadium, Francis spoke of forgiveness and reconciliation, themes that have dominated his visit to the country where armed conflict has killed and displaced millions of people over the past decades.
But Thursday’s speech, focused on what he called “ingredients for the future”, struck a more hopeful tone than his previous ones as he spoke of potential new horizons for Congo rather than of its bloody past and present.
The speech was interrupted so often by applause and cheers that at one point an organiser took a microphone and shouted “let the pope speak” before he could continue.
“Beware of the temptation to point a finger at someone, to exclude another person because he or she is different; beware of regionalism, tribalism, or anything that makes you feel secure in your own group,” he told them.
“You know what happens: first, you believe in prejudices about others, then you justify hatred, then violence, and in the end, you find yourself in the middle of a war,” he said.
Congo has some of the world’s richest deposits of diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, tin, tantalum and lithium, but its abundant mineral resources have stoked conflict between ethnic groups, militias, government troops and foreign invaders.
Eastern Congo has also been plagued by violence connected to the long and complex fallout from the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda, which played out along ethnic fault lines.
“To create a new future we need to give and receive forgiveness. That is what Christians do,” he said.
DO THE RIGHT THING
In urging the young people in the packed stadium to “do the right thing”, Francis also asked them not to repeat the mistakes of previous generations. He singled out “corruption, which never seems to stop spreading”.
He led the stadium in an impromptu chant of “no to corruption” in French, Congo’s lingua franca.
The United Nations says African economies lose nearly $150 billion to corruption each year.
“Do not let yourselves be manipulated by individuals or groups that try to use you to keep your country in the grip of violence and instability, so that they can continue to control it without answering to anyone,” the pope told them.
On Wednesday the pope listened to harrowing accounts from victims of conflict, hearing them speak of rape, amputation, forced cannibalism and sexual slavery. He condemned the atrocities as war crimes.
“As a young girl, we know that through his visit, many solutions will be found for our young sisters, girls and women, who are subjected to sexual violence, especially in the east. This is the big problem that hurts us,” said Helena Camilo, 24, a business administration student who was at the stadium.
The 86-year-old pope is on the penultimate day of the first stop of his two-nation African tour.
On Friday he leaves Congo for neighbouring South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, which is also grappling with conflict and hunger following a civil war that was fought mostly on ethnic lines and killed 400,000 people.