One hope united many of the people streaming to see Pope Francis perform mass in DR Congo’s capital on Wednesday — that his presence could at last bring peace to the war-wracked east of the African country.
“The war will stop… thanks to the pope’s prayer,” said Eulalie Nzinga, 63, who got up at 4am to make sure of a space at the airport in the capital Kinshasa, where up to a million people are tipped to attend Pope Francis’s mass.
“I’m sick, but I know that as the pope is here, everything will be ok,” said Nzinga, who brought her 13-year-old granddaughter along to the N’Dolo airport in the east of the city.
The hope for peace was echoed by many worshippers in a country where conflict has raged in the mineral-rich east for nearly 30 years.
“The pope will bring us peace,” Josee Mandjo, 50, told AFP late on Tuesday as he prepared to spend the night in Ndolo along with thousands of others.
As the sun rose, crowds of people streamed into the venue. At 6:00 am, many of the chairs had already been taken and people were sitting on the ground. The heat promised to be intense.
Brandishing flags with the pope’s portrait or the national colours, many danced as they waited for the mass to start.
‘Blessing and peace’
The DRC is a deeply impoverished central African state, which has secularism enshrined in its constitution. But the former Belgian colony is Africa’s largest Catholic nation.
According to estimates, about 40 percent of the population of some 100 million is Catholic. Thirty-five percent of Congolese are Protestants of various denominations, nine percent Muslims and 10 percent Kimbanguists — a Christian movement born in the Belgian Congo.
Official Vatican statistics put the proportion of Catholics in the DRC at 49 percent of the population.
Treson Nyembo, 29, slept at a church in western Kinshasa with some 100 people before they all boarded a van in the early morning hours, in the hopes of avoiding the monster traffic jams that regularly snarl traffic in the metropolis of 15 million.
Determined to see pope
Nyembo was determined to attend, as his late father didn’t get a chance to see in person the last pope to visit the country, John Paul II in 1985.
“I didn’t want to miss this event,” Nyembo said sitting in the van, as people around him sang religious songs. “A pope is a blessing and peace.”
“My hopes are high,” said Godefroy Ngaly, 44, who waited an hour in line before finally being able to enter the venue.
“The pope can lobby so that our compatriots can live in peace,” he said, taking a selfie to immortalise the moment. “It’s not every day that you see the pope.”