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 Congo, 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 mineral deposits, but its abundant 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.
“To create a new future we need to give and receive forgiveness. That is what Christians do,” he said.
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 theme struck a chord with many young people in the stadium, who denounced their own leaders as corrupt and complained of routinely having to pay bribes to receive what should be ordinary services.
“The pope is right,” said Joel Muhemereri Amani, 21, an art student. “Because the country is going badly, imagine, to enter somewhere you have to corrupt the police. And I hope that the government, the police will change in this respect.”
Genovic Lobombo, a medical student, said he had come up against corruption during his time at university. “In order to succeed, you have to give money,” he said. “Corruption reigns here.”
The United Nations says African economies lose nearly $150 billion to corruption each year.
“Look, corruption is a scourge that exists in many countries of the world,” said Patrick Muyaya, minister of communication and government spokesman, after the pope’s speech.
“There are structural problems linked to the organisation of the country. So we are going to work so that all those who work can earn money by the sweat of their brow,” he told Reuters.
The 86-year-old pope, who arrived in Congo on Tuesday,flies to neighbouring South Sudan on Friday. He will be visiting jointly with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of Scotland Moderator, in what the three Christian leaders have described as an unprecedented “pilgrimage of peace”.
South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, is also grappling with conflict and hunger following a civil war that was fought mostly on ethnic lines and killed 400,000 people.