Pope Francis has made frequent appeals for peace during his historical trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo but this week, violence had engulfed the eastern part of the country.
The theme of the pontiff’s visit to Africa’s largest Catholic country was tagged,” Put an end to violence”, and this he has been predominantly preaching about since he arrived the Catholic country on Tuesday and was to depart for South Sudan on Friday.
According report, dozens of armed groups have ravaged eastern DRC for decades, many of which are a legacy of regional wars that flared in the 1990s and early 2000s.
It said since late 2021, the M23 rebel group has also captured swathes of territory in the turbulent region leading hundreds of thousands of people scurry for safety.
Francis urged the believers, in a tremendous open-air mass in the capital Kinshasa, which attracted a million people, not to “give in to divisions”.
In his meeting with the victims of the conflict, who narrated horrors of mutilation and rape, he condemned the “inhumane violence” and called for mercy from God.
“May he convert the hearts of those who carry out brutal atrocities, which bring shame upon all humanity,” Francis said.
The message reawakened the worshippers and they had hoped the pope’s visit would being peace.
Theoneste Bahati Gakuru, 34, a human rights activist in the eastern city of Goma, said he thought the papal trip had drawn much-needed attention to the violence.
He charged the international community to “take action to stop this disastrous situation”.
In her own words, Kathungu Matumaini, a nurse in the eastern city of Beni, said, “We are innocent, we know nothing about politics”. She asked that her “tears and prayers be heard”.
It was gathered the pope visit could halt violence as combat between the M23 and state forces continued during the his visit, while attacks by other armed groups also led to lost of many lives of civilians in the east.
– ‘Your tears are my tears’ –
On Wednesday in Kinshasa, Pope Francis told conflict victims “your tears are my tears”.
It was reported that the same day, armed men, suspected to be members of the Allied Democratic Forces, ADF, killed seven people in a village in eastern Ituri province’s Irumu territory.
The ADF, which the Islamic State group claims as its central African affiliate, is one of the deadliest armed groups operating in Congo’s east.
It has been accused of slaughtering thousands of Congolese civilians and carrying out bomb attacks in Uganda.
A spokesman for the Lendu community in Ituri, Jean-Marie Ndjaza said the pope’s message of rejecting tribalism and violence must be considered.
He said, “We need to avoid creating more victims.”
Other residents of the east also took succour from the pontiff’s words.
Paulin Mulume, 30, said Francis had breathed hope into the heart of victims.
An activist in the South Kivu city of Bukavu, said, “The pontiff will be their ambassador”.
Violence in the area, it was said, however, remains routine. This week, the headless body of a five-year-old boy was discovered in the province — the suspected victim of a ritual killing.