More than 1 million people attended Pope Francis’ Mass in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday morning, according to local authorities.
The Mass in Kinshasa, DRC’s capital city, took place on the airfield of the N’Dolo Airport on the second day of the pope’s trip to two countries in central and east Africa.
Catholics attended a prayer vigil with confessions and music the night of Jan. 31; some people who traveled from far away stayed at the airport all night until the morning Mass on Feb. 1.
People gathered in the field hours before the start of Mass at 9:30 a.m. local time. Catholics danced and sang songs, including a joyful chant of “Maman Maria,” which means “Mama Mary” in French, as they awaited Pope Francis’ arrival.
According to statistics from the Vatican, there are more than 52 million Catholics in the DRC, almost half of the total population of more than 105 million people.
Pope Francis celebrated Mass in French, the official language of DRC, and Lingala, the Bantu-based creole spoken in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo and by millions of speakers across Central Africa.
The pope delivered his homily in Italian with French translations for the Mass, which was celebrated according to the Zaire Use of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.
The Zaire Use of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite is an inculturated Mass formally approved in 1988 for the dioceses of what was then known as the Republic of Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Pilgrims used umbrellas, hats, and even sheets of paper to shade themselves from the sun as temperatures soared into the low 90s Fahrenheit.
“Brothers and sisters, with Jesus, evil never wins, evil never has the last word,” Pope Francis said at Mass.
“‘For he is our peace,’" he added, “and his peace is triumphant. Consequently, we who belong to Jesus must never yield to sorrow; we must not permit resignation and fatalism to take hold of us. Even though that atmosphere reigns all around us, it must not be so for us.”
Violence in eastern DRC has created a severe humanitarian crisis with more than 5.5 million people displaced from their homes, the third-highest number of internally displaced people in the world.
On Feb. 1, Pope Francis will meet with victims of violence from eastern DRC and with volunteers from local charities.
“In a world disheartened by violence and war, Christians must be like Jesus,” Francis said in his homily. “As if to insist on the point, Jesus told the disciples once more: Peace be with you! We are called to make our own this inspired and prophetic message of peace and proclaim it before the world.”
The pope said there are three “wellsprings of peace” — forgiveness, community, and mission. He also encouraged the people of DRC to unite their suffering to the suffering of Christ.
“When guilt and sadness overwhelm us, when things do not go well, we know where to look: to the wounds of Jesus, who is ever ready to forgive us with his infinite, wounded love,” he said.
Jesus, Francis added, “knows your wounds; he knows the wounds of your country, he knows the wounds of your people, your land! They are wounds that ache, continually infected by hatred and violence, while the medicine of justice and the balm of hope never seem to arrive.”
“My brother, my sister, Jesus suffers with you. He sees the wounds you carry within, and he desires to console and heal you; he offers you his wounded heart. To your heart, God repeats the words he spoke today through the prophet Isaiah: ‘I will heal them; I will lead them and repay them with comfort,’” he said.
Pope Francis encouraged Catholics in DRC to take the crucifix from their wall or hanging on a chain around their neck and to hold it in their hands, close to their hearts, “in order to share your wounds with the wounds of Jesus.”
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“Give Christ the chance to heal your heart, hand your past over to him, along with all your fears and troubles. What a beautiful thing it is to open the doors of your heart and your home to his peace!” he said.
A number of cardinals and bishops from Africa concelebrated the papal Mass Feb. 1.
Cardinal Antoine Kambanda of Rwanda, Cardinal Dieudonne Nzapalainga of Central African Republic, Archbishop Edmond Djitangar of Chad, and Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Nigeria were among those who traveled from other African countries for the Mass.
The pope will fly to the city of Juba in South Sudan on Feb. 3 for the second leg of the trip. The visit to South Sudan will be a “pilgrimage of peace” and take place together with the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the moderator of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields.