To bring about peace, “prayer is the most powerful weapon there is,” Pope Francis told thousands of young adults and catechism teachers in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday.
The meeting in Martyrs’ Stadium in Kinshasa, the capital city of the DRC, took place on Feb. 2, the third day of the pope’s visit to the central African country. On Feb. 3, Francis will fly to Juba, South Sudan, for the second leg of his peace pilgrimage.
Pope Francis on Thursday interacted with an enthusiastic crowd of about 65,000 young people and adults, some of whom traveled days to be present for the papal visit.
“Yes, prayer conquers fear and enables us to take our future into our hands. Do you believe this?” the pope said. “Do you want to make prayer your secret, as refreshing water for the soul, as the one weapon you carry, as a traveling companion on each day’s journey?”
During the second half of his speech, the pope was repeatedly drowned out by the energetic audience, which broke out in cheering, singing, and dancing despite the hot weather.
In his talk, Francis used the imagery of the hand to speak about the future of the DRC.
“God has placed the gift of life, the future of society and the future of this great country in those hands of yours,” he said.
“Dear brother, dear sister, do your hands not seem small and frail, empty and unsuited to so great a task? It’s true,” he said. “Let me tell you something: your hands all look alike, they all look alike, but none of them is exactly the same. No one has hands just like yours, and that is a sign that you are a unique treasure, an unrepeatable and incomparable treasure.”
He invited those present in the stadium to open and close their hands while meditating on whether they wanted to choose peace or violence.
“Notice how you can squeeze your hand, closing it to make a fist. Or you can open it, to offer it to God and to others,” he said.
“You who dream of a different future: from your hands, tomorrow can be born, tomorrow can be born from your hands, from your hands peace so lacking in this country can at last come about.”
Bishop Donatien Bafuidinsoni Maloko-Mana from the Diocese of Inongo, in western DRC, was at the meeting.
He told EWTN News that people from his diocese traveled in boats on the Congo River for two to four days to arrive in Kinshasa.
Bafuidinsoni said the Congolese people were disappointed last year when the pope’s visit was canceled, but “now that the pope is here it’s a big joy for us all.”
Even those who are following the trip from home “are really happy,” he added. “It’s a message of joy, of peace, and of hope for all.”
Sister Asterie Neema, 29, is from Rutshuru in eastern Congo, where, she told EWTN News, they are under the control of an armed group called M23.
Neema said her older brother was killed in 2022 by unidentified rebels in front of his 12- and 7-year-old children.
In her 29 years of life, she said, her region of the DRC has never seen peace. Neema added that she has forgiven her brother’s killers, but she hopes for peace in her country.
Not everyone in the audience was Catholic. Two young Muslim men also attended the youth gathering with Pope Francis.
Yassine Mumbere, from Butembo in eastern DRC, told EWTN News that he came to the event because all young people were invited. He also studied at a Catholic school.
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The 35-year-old Muslim Scout leader said he hopes the pope’s trip will help bring peace to the DRC’s eastern region.
In his speech, Pope Francis encouraged those present to be careful of the temptation to point fingers at people, or to exclude others because of “regionalism, tribalism, or anything that makes you feel secure in your own group, but at the same time is unconcerned with the life of the community.”
“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.
To create a concrete sign of community, Francis invited the crowd to hold hands with those beside them and to sing a song together: “Imagine yourselves as one Church, a single people, holding hands.”
“Yes, brother and sister, you are indispensable and you are responsible for your Church and for your country,” he said after the song. “You are part of a greater history, one that calls you to take an active role as a builder of communion, a champion of fraternity, an indomitable dreamer of a more united world.”
After Pope Francis spoke against corruption — inviting everyone to shout together, “Go away, corruption!” — the stadium broke out in loud singing and cheering.
The event’s emcee had to invite the crowd to quiet down before the pope could continue speaking.
Francis also drew attention to two Congolese martyrs and their examples of faith: Blessed Isidore Bakanja and Blessed Marie-Clémentine Anuarite.
Blessed Marie-Clémentine Anuarite, a member of the Sisters of the Holy Family, was killed during the civil war in 1964 at the age of 24. Anuarite was beatified by Pope John Paul II during his visit to the DRC, then known as the Republic of Zaire, in 1985.
Blessed Isidore Bakanja was a Catholic convert at the age of 18. He became a catechist and was devoted to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. He died in 1909, around the age of 21 or 22, after succumbing to an infection caused by a beating and other torture he received at the hands of a European manager for refusing to remove his brown scapular at work. Bakanja was beatified in 1994 by Pope John Paul II.
Statues of the two blesseds were present at the youth meeting, where people in the crowd shouted and held signs asking the pope to make them “santi subito!”
The pope pointed to another example of virtue from the DRC, Floribert Bwana Chui, who was killed in 2007 in Goma.
The 26-year-old man, who worked as a customs manager, was killed for refusing to cooperate with corruption; specifically, he did not allow the passage of expired food products.
“He could easily have turned a blind eye; nobody would have found out, and he might even have gotten ahead as a result,” Francis said. “But, since he was a Christian, he prayed. He thought of others and he chose to be honest, saying no to the filth of corruption.”
“Now I want to tell you something important,” he added. “Listen closely: If someone offers you a bribe, or promises you favors and lots of money, do not fall into the trap. Do not be deceived; do not be sucked into the swamp of evil. Do not be overcome by evil!”