Pope Francis said goodbye to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with a meeting with the bishops, whom he invited to be witnesses of reconciliation in a country that lives "in the midst of violence unleashed by the exploitation of resources and ethnic conflicts".
Francis will move on to South Sudan, on a visit where he will be accompanied by the leader of the Anglicans, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and the moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields, to reinforce the peace agreement implemented in the country in 2018.
"Do not be afraid to be witnesses of mercy and reconciliation in the midst of violence unleashed not only by that of resources and by ethnic and tribal conflicts, but also and above all by the dark force of the evil one, the enemy of God and of man," the Pope said at the headquarters of the DRC Bishops' Conference, where he arrived last Tuesday.
At the meeting with Francis were the 65 bishops of the DRC who represent the 47 dioceses of a country with a population of some 95 million people, half of whom are Catholic.
"With you, brothers, I see Jesus suffering in the history of this crucified and oppressed people, devastated by unforgiving violence, marked by innocent pain, forced to live with the murky waters of corruption and injustice that pollute society, and suffering poverty in so many of its children," he said.
"But at the same time I see a people who have not lost hope, who enthusiastically embrace the faith and look to their Shepherds," he added.
He also pointed out to them the need to "uproot the poisonous plants of hatred and selfishness, of rancour and violence; to tear down the altars consecrated to money and corruption; to build a coexistence founded on justice, truth and peace".
But he warned them that their mission must not be political, but that of "the proclamation of the Word to awaken consciences, to denounce evil, to encourage those who are despondent and without hope". "Let us be pastors and servants of the people, not businessmen," he said.
During this trip, Francis has made numerous appeals for people to lay down their arms in the eastern part of the country, where he had planned to go, but due to the outbreak of fighting he had to cancel the stop in Goma.
According to a Save the Children report released during this visit, more than 122,000 people, including 65,000 children, fled their homes between 24 and 25 January because of fighting between the rebel March 23 Movement (M23) and the Congolese army around Kitshanga, some 60 kilometres west of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.
Since fighting with the M23 resumed last March after years of calm, insurgents have occupied strategic areas and locations in the DRC and fear of violence has forced more than half a million people to flee their homes, according to the UN.
Some 5.5 million people are displaced in the DRC, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), in a country with a population of 95 million.