6 February 2024 | Speeches

MEETING WITH THE AUTHORITIES, WITH CIVIL SOCIETY AND WITH THE DIPLOMATIC CORPS – DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

Kinshasa

Mr President of the Republic,
Distinguished Members of the Government and the Diplomatic Corps,
distinguished religious and civil Authorities,
Distinguished Representatives of civil society and the world of culture,
Ladies and gentlemen!

I cordially greet you, and I am grateful to the President for the words he has
addressed to me. I am happy to be here, in this land so beautiful, vast,
luxuriant, which embraces the equatorial forest to the north, plateaus and
wooded savannahs in the center and to the south, hills, mountains, volcanoes
and lakes to the east, great waters to the west, with the Congo River meeting
the ocean. In your country, which is like a continent in the great African
continent, it seems that the whole earth breathes. But if the geography of this
green lung is so rich and varied, history has not been equally generous:
tormented by war, the Democratic Republic of Congo continues to suffer conflicts
and forced migrations within its borders, and to suffer terrible forms of
exploitation, unworthy of man and creation. This immense and full of life
country, thisdiaphragm of Africa, struck by the violence as if by a punch in the
stomach, seems breathless for some time. Mr President, you mentioned this
forgotten genocide that the Republic of Congo is suffering.
And as you Congolese struggle to preserve your dignity and territorial integrity
against despicable attempts to fragment your country, I come to you, in the
name of Jesus, as a pilgrim of reconciliation and peace. I have longed to be here
and finally I come to bring you the closeness, affection and consolation of the
whole Church, and to learn from your example of patience, courage and
struggle.
I would like to speak to you through an image that well symbolizes the luminous
beauty of this land: the image of the diamond. Dear Congolese women and men,
your country really isa diamond of creation; but you, all of you, are infinitely
more precious than any good that springs from this fertile soil! I am here to
embrace you and to remind you that you are of inestimable value, that the
Church and the Pope have faith in you, they believe in your future, in a future
that will bein your hands and in which you deserve to pour your gifts of
intelligence, sagacity and industriousness. Courage, Congolese brother and
sister! Get up, take back in your hands, like a pure diamond, what you are, your
dignity, your vocation to keep the house you live in in harmony and peace.
Relive the spirit of your national anthem, dreaming and putting into practice its
words: «Through hard work, we will build a more beautiful country than before;
in peace”.
Dear friends, diamonds, commonly rare, abound here. If this is true for the
material riches hidden underground, it is even more so for the spiritual ones
enclosed in hearts. And it is precisely starting from hearts that peace and
development remain possible because, with God’s help, human beings are
capable of justice and forgiveness, harmony and reconciliation, commitment and
perseverance in putting to good use the talents received. From the beginning of
my journey, I have therefore wanted to make an appeal: let each Congolese feel
called to do their part! May violence and hatred no longer have a place in
anyone’s heart or lips, because they are anti-human and anti-Christian
sentiments, which paralyze development and lead us back to a dark past.
Speaking of slowed down development and a return to the past, it is tragic that
these places, and more generally the African continent, still suffer from various
forms of exploitation. There is that motto that comes from the unconscious of
many cultures and many people: “Africa must be exploited”, this is terrible! After
the political one, an equally enslaving “economic colonialism” was unleashed.
Thus this country, extensively plundered, is unable to benefit sufficiently from its
immense resources: the paradox has come that the fruits of its land make it
“foreign” to its inhabitants. The poison of greed has made its ownblood
diamonds. It is a drama to which the more economically advanced world often
closes its eyes, ears and mouth. But this country and this continent deserve to
be respected and listened to, they deserve space and attention: hands off the
Democratic Republic of Congo, hands off Africa! Stop suffocating Africa: it is not
a mine to be exploited or land to be plundered. May Africa be the protagonist of
its destiny! May the world remember the disasters wrought over the centuries to
the detriment of local populations and not forget this country and this continent.
Africa, smile and hope of the world, counts more: if it is talked about more, it
has more weight and representation among the Nations!
Make way for a diplomacy of man for man, of peoples for peoples, where the
center is not the control of areas and resources, the aims of expansion and the
increase of profits, but the opportunities for growth of the people. Looking at this
people, one gets the impression that the international community has almost
resigned itself to the violence that is devouring them. We cannot get used to the
blood that has been flowing in this country for decades now, reaping millions of
deaths without the knowledge of many. Know what happens here. The ongoing
peace processes, which I encourage with all my strength, are supported with
deeds and commitments are kept. Thanks be to God, there is no shortage of
those who contribute to the good of the local population and to real development
through effective projects: not mere assistance interventions, but plans aimed at
integral growth. I express great gratitude to the countries and organizations that
provide substantial aid in this sense, aiding the fight against poverty and
disease, supporting the rule of law, promoting respect for human rights. I
express the hope that they may continue to carry out this noble role fully and
courageously.
Let’s go back to the image of the diamond. Once worked, its beauty also derives
from its shape, from numerous harmoniously arranged faces. Even this country,
enhanced by its typical pluralism, has a multifaceted character. It is a richness
that must be preserved, avoiding slipping into tribalism and opposition.
Obstinately siding with one’s ethnic group or for particular interests, fueling
spirals of hatred and violence, works to the detriment of everyone, as it blocks
the necessary “chemistry of the whole”. Speaking of chemistry, it is interesting
that diamonds are made up of simple carbon atoms which, however, if linked
together in different ways, form graphite: in practice, the difference between the
brightness of a diamond and the darkness of graphite is given by the way
individual atoms are arranged within the crystal lattice. Metaphor aside, the
problem is not the nature of men or of ethnic and social groups, but the way in
which we decide to stay together: whether or not we want to meet each other, to
reconcile and to start over marks the difference between darkness of conflict and
a bright future of peace and prosperity.
Dear friends, the Heavenly Father wants us to know how to welcome each other
as brothers and sisters of one family and to work towards a future that is
together with others, not against others. «Bintu bantu»: thus, very effectively,
one of your proverbs reminds us that true wealth is people and good
relationships with them. Religions in a special way, with their patrimony of
wisdom, are called to contribute to it, in the daily effort to renounce all
aggression, proselytism and coercion, means unworthy of human freedom. When
it degenerates into imposing itself, hunting for followers in an indiscriminate way,
by deception or by force, it plunders the conscience of others and turns its back
on the true God, because – let us not forget – “where there is Spirit of the Lord,
there is freedom” (2 Cor 3,17) and where there is no freedom, there is no Spirit
of the Lord. In the commitment to build a future of peace and fraternity, the
members of civil society, some of whom are present, also play an essential role.
They have often shown that they know how to oppose injustice and degradation
at the cost of great sacrifices, in order to defend human rights, the need for a
solid education for all and a more dignified life for each one. I sincerely thank
the women and men, especially the young people of this country, who have
suffered to varying degrees because of this, and I pay them tribute.

The diamond, in its transparency, refracts the light it receives in a wonderful
way. Many of you shine for the role you play. Those who hold civil and
government responsibilities are therefore called to operate with crystalline
clarity, experiencing the assignment received as a means of serving society.
Indeed, power makes sense only if it becomes service. How important it is to
operate with this spirit, avoiding authoritarianism, the search for easy earnings
and the greed for money, which the Apostle Paul defines as the “root of all evil”
(1 Tim 6,10). And at the same time promote free, transparent, credible
elections; extend even further participation in peace processes to women, youth
and various groups, to marginalized groups; seek the common good and
people’s safety rather than personal or group interests; strengthen the presence
of the State in every part of the territory; take care of the many displaced
people and refugees. Don’t let yourself be manipulated or bought by those who
want to keep the country in violence, to exploit it and do shameful business: this
only brings discredit and shame, together with death and misery. Instead, it is
good to approach people, to understand how they live. People trust when they
feel that whoever governs them is really close, not by calculation or by show, but
by service.
In society, the light of goodness is often obscured by the darkness of injustice
and corruption. Already centuries ago Saint Augustine, who was born on this
continent, asked himself: “If justice is not respected, what are states if not large
gangs of thieves?” (of civ. I gave, IV,4). God is on the side of those who hunger
and thirst for justice (cfMt 5,6). We must never tire of promoting law and
fairness in every sector, opposing impunity and the manipulation of laws and
information.
A diamond rises from the ground genuine but rough, in need of processing.
Thus, even the most precious diamonds of the Congolese land, who are the
children of this nation, must be able to take advantage of valid educational
opportunities, which allow them to make full use of the brilliant talents they
have. Education is fundamental: it is the way to the future, the road to take to
achieve full freedom in this country and the African continent. It is urgent to
invest in it, to prepare societies that will be consolidated only if well educated,
autonomous only if fully aware of their potential and capable of developing it
with responsibility and perseverance. But many children do not go to school:
how many, instead of receiving a worthy education, are exploited! Too many die,
subjected to slave labor in the mines. Efforts are spared to denounce the
scourge of child labor and put an end to it. How many girls are marginalized and
violated in their dignity! Children, girls, young people are the present of hope,
they are hope: let us not allow it to be erased, but let us cultivate it with
passion!
The diamond, a gift from the earth, calls for the custody of creation, for the
protection of the environment. Located in the heart of Africa, the Democratic
Republic of Congo is home to one of the largest green lungs in the world, which
must be preserved. As with peace and development, broad and fruitful collaboration
is important in this field as well, which allows for effective intervention, without
imposing external models that are more useful to those who help than to those who
are helped. Many have asked Africa for commitment and have offered aid to combat
climate change and the coronavirus. These are certainly opportunities to be seized,
but above all there is a need for health and social models that respond not only to the
urgencies of the moment, but contribute to effective social growth: solid structures and
honest and competent personnel, to overcome the serious problems that they block
development in the bud, such as hunger and disease. Finally, diamond is the mineral
of natural origin with the highest hardness; its resistance to chemical agents is very high.
The continuous repetition of violent attacks and the many uncomfortable situations could
weaken the resistance of the Congolese, undermine their fortitude, lead them to become
discouraged and withdraw into resignation. But in the name of Christ, who is the God of
hope, the God of every possibility who always gives the strength to start over, in the name
of the dignity and value of the most precious diamonds of this land, who are its citizens,
I would like to invite all to a courageous and inclusive social restart. The bright but
wounded history of the country asks for it, especially young people and children beg him.
I am with you and with prayer and closeness I accompany every effort for a peaceful,
harmonious and prosperous future of this great country. God bless the entire Congolese nation!