Today the Pope leaves the Democratic Republic of Congo for South Sudan. In Kinshasa, indescribable gratitude and joy for this meeting, which has shattered predatory and possessive ways of thinking.
By Massimiliano Menichetti – Kinshasa
Africa, seen from the Democratic Republic of Congo, is very different than when viewed from the outside. All it takes is a day to completely change your perspective, and make it possible to recognise what from many other latitudes, paradoxically, escapes your notice and is forgotten: here the human heart is capable of rejoicing at an encounter.
Peace, harmony, and fraternity, indeed, arise from relationships, which here can be touched and seen. In the land of diamonds you celebrate if a friend comes to visit, you’re honoured by the visit of a relative, a grandfather, who shares his story, the wisdom of a lifetime. The word joy has not been emptied of meaning, it is not superficial: it’s rich, because it’s not attached to an ephemeral moment, but to humankind. It is the joy of the encounter which filled the streets, the flyovers, the airport in N’dolo, and the Martyrs’ Stadium during the visit of Pope Francis.
In this country, where a European would probably not find the ‘indispensable comforts’ to which they’re accustomed, it’s possible to get to the living root of everything, both good and bad. Perhaps this is because people have not been anaesthetised by the opulence of well-being, or because here time is not yet entirely marked by the frenzy of doing, but by the breath of the sun, of nature. Kinshasa is a chaotic and disorderly city, where shacks, on dirt and asphalt roads, alternate with piles of rubbish, buildings under construction, neat houses and concrete skeletons.
The traffic seems to have no rules, and the vehicles, if they’re not bottled up, move quickly, darting continuously left and right. Most of the cars are dented, their wing mirrors tied on with wires and tape, and the doors of the buses are often open to allow as many people as possible to be crammed in, some sticking out. The police and military man the streets with long truncheons which they wave at those who violate directives. Sometimes four people travel on one motorbike. Children play behind coloured metal sheets marking out empty spaces, and women carry sacks of all sizes on their heads. The gaze of the inhabitants is always the same: it pierces you.
In this land, where the contradictions of mineral wealth and poverty, war and the beauty of nature, live side by side, what prevails is the unstoppable drive of the people, all projected forward. ‘The Democratic Republic of Congo will be a paradise’. This hope is not an expectation, a chimera, but what one hears from an entire generation, from those who, carrying Christ, build day after day amidst the rubble, corruption, the discarded people, violence, abuse, exploitation and tribal division. But perhaps it is precisely this that frightens those who plunder, crush and silence Africa, those who seek to relegate it to a problem to be solved or states to be helped.
Everyone here remembers the two visits of St John Paul II, but also the very recent one by Cardinal Parolin, who came in July to represent Francis, who had postponed his trip because of knee pain. The Vatican’s Secretary of State brought with him the promise that the Holy Father would come. ‘It has been a year,’ sighed the Pontiff on the plane to Kinshasa. The Pope has been true to his word, and this people has not forgotten it; they feel honoured, respected, loved. Francis has nourished the certainty of a brighter future in this country, where the church is thriving, nourished the awareness of the bond in Christ.
This continent is growing enormously, and not only in terms of GDP. Opportunities, however, will not come from coltan, oil, or precious stones – although these will certainly be tools – but from human memory, the desire for encounter, vitality, youthfulness, from the desire of these peoples, which will allow all of humanity to experience new challenges, to change, to grow, to develop. This is the reversal of perspective brought by the Pope, who has indicated the light of Christ as the beacon to follow, because in Him colonial and predatory logics are dissolved, allowing humanity to become itself, in relation with others.