KINSHASA, Congo — They came away enthused by Pope Francis' message of peace and reconciliation and said they were hoping Congo's leaders would take heed.
“I hope that perhaps the visit of the pope will positively influence our government,” Pamela-Baketana told NBC News after the pontiff spoke to a 65,000-strong crowd at the Pentecost Martyrs Stadium in the central African nation’s capital, Kinshasa, on Thursday.
“The visit is an act of motivation for us, the youth, because we need the framework for our future, but without peace it will not be possible,” the 27-year-old said.
Francis' address to the crowd came on the last day of his emotional three-day visit to the sub-Saharan nation of 105 million — half of whom are Roman Catholic. It was the first time in 37 years that a pope has visited Congo. He traveled to neighboring South Sudan on Friday.
The crowd was made up mostly of young people, many of whom were waving the baby-blue colored Congolese flag.
“Beware of the temptation to point a finger at someone, to exclude another person because he or she is different; beware of regionalism, tribalism, or anything that makes you feel secure in your own group,” he said, according to Reuters. “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.”
While Hugue-Mangala-Bongonza, 32, appreciated Francis’ message, he said it was “up to us, the youth, to take the situation in our hands and work for the stability of our country.”
The environmental science graduate said this was particularly the case in eastern Congo, where conflict has raged among the government, rebels and foreign invaders, driven in part by the struggle for control of deposits of diamonds, gold and other precious metals. The spillover and long fallout from neighbouring Rwanda’s 1994 genocide have also fueled violence.
Francis had been set to visit the eastern city of Goma, but he was forced to cancel his plans because of an uptick in violence in the area.
However, on Wednesday, he heard harrowing stories from victims from eastern Congo, who had witnessed the killings of close relatives and been subjected to sexual slavery, amputation and forced cannibalism.
While forgiveness and reconciliation were the central themes of his speech Thursday, the pontiff also singled out “corruption, which never seems to stop spreading.”
He went on to lead the stadium in an impromptu chant of “no corruption.” As most of the crowd chanted in unison with him, he conducted the audience with his right hand gently moving upward.
In a speech to dignitaries at the presidential palace Tuesday, he condemned those using the country’s mineral wealth to fuel war, death, displacement and hunger.
“Hands off Africa. Stop choking Africa: it is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered,” Francis said, according to Reuters. “The poison of greed has smeared its diamonds with blood,” he added, referring to Congo specifically.
Sabra Mpoyi, a lawyer and political analyst from Kinshasa, said he hoped the pope’s visit would provide a wake-up call to the international community about the violence created by the battle for control of Congo's natural resources.
"The international community has an obligation to demand the traceability of minerals, and oblige all major economic operators to work legally with the Congolese government in a win-win partnership,” he said.
Mpoyi, 42, added that the international community must no longer turn a “blind eye” to companies supporting the armed groups battling over the resources.
“It is unacceptable that the Congolese people live in misery when the country has a lot of wealth,” he said.
Kenny Katombe Butunka reported from Congo and Aina J. Khan from London.