Stop choking Africa, Pope tells rich states Pope Francis meets Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi at the presidential palace in Kinshasa yesterday.

KINSHASA. – Pope Francis denounced the “poison of greed” for mineral resources driving conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo as he began a visit yesterday, saying the rich world could no longer ignore the tragic plight of many African nations.

The 86-year-old Francis is the first pontiff to visit Congo since John Paul II in 1985, when it was still known as Zaire. About half of Congo’s population of 90 million are Roman Catholics.

Tens of thousands of people cheered as he travelled from the airport into the capital Kinshasa in his popemobile, with some breaking away to chase his convoy while others chanted and waved flags in one of the most vibrant welcomes of his foreign trips.

But the mood changed when the pope gave a speech to dignitaries at the presidential palace, condemning “terrible forms of exploitation, unworthy of humanity” in Congo, where vast mineral wealth has fuelled war, displacement and hunger.

“It is a tragedy that these lands, and more generally the whole African continent, continue to endure various forms of exploitation,” he said. “The poison of greed has smeared its diamonds with blood,” he said, referring to Congo specifically.

“Hands off the Democratic Republic of the Congo! Hands off Africa! Stop choking Africa: it is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered,” he said.

Today, he will celebrate Mass which is tipped to draw more than a million faithful and meet victims of violence from the eastern part of the country, which is blighted by recurring fighting between rebels from the M23 group and government troops.

“I wanted to go to Goma but we can’t because of the war,” the pope told reporters during his flight, .

During his visit to DRC, the Pope will also meet victims of violence as well as members of the clergy and charities operating in the country.

“For me, it’s the first time I’m seeing him other than on television. It’s a moment of joy,” said Alain Difima, a Catholic priest who spent hours waiting for the pope to land.

The DRC has some of the world’s richest deposits of diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, tin, tantalum and lithium, but its abundant mineral resources have stoked conflict between militias, government troops and foreign invaders. Mining has also been linked to inhumane exploitation of workers and environmental degradation.

An estimated 5.7 million people are internally displaced in Congo and 26 million face severe hunger, largely because of the impact of armed conflict, according to the United Nations.

Francis will stay in Kinshasa until Friday morning, when he will fly to South Sudan, another country grappling with conflict and poverty. – Agencies

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