Shun ethnic rivalry and corruption, pope tells African youth
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By Philip Pullella and Paul Lorgerie
KINSHASA (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Thursday urged young people in the Democratic Republic of Congo to forge a new future free of the ethnic rivalry, corruption and distrust that have fueled so many bloody conflicts in Africa.
Speaking to more than 65,000 young people at the Martyrs Stage, Francis spoke of forgiveness and reconciliation, themes that have dominated his visit to Congo, where armed conflict has killed and displaced millions in recent decades.
But Thursday’s speech, which focused on what he called “ingredients for the future,” struck a more hopeful tone than his previous ones, speaking of potential new horizons for Congo rather than its bloody past and present.
The speech was interrupted so often by applause and cheers that at one point an organizer picked up a microphone and shouted, “Let the Pope speak” before he could continue.
“Beware of the temptation to point fingers, to exclude another person because he or she is different; beware of regionalism, tribalism, or anything that gives you a sense of security within your own group,” he told them.
“You know what happens: first you believe in prejudice against others, then you justify hate, then violence, and finally you find yourself in the middle of a war,” he said.
Congo has some of the richest mineral deposits in the world, but its abundant resources have fueled conflicts between ethnic groups, militias, government forces and foreign invaders.
Eastern Congo has also been wracked by violence related to the long and complex aftermath of the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda.
“To create a new future, we must give and receive forgiveness. That’s what Christians do,” he said.
DO THE RIGHT THING
By urging the youngsters in the crowded stadium to “do the right thing,” Francis also asked them not to repeat the mistakes of previous generations. He highlighted “corruption that never seems to stop spreading”.
He directed the stadium with an impromptu “No to corruption” in French, Congo’s lingua franca.
The issue struck many young people at the stadium, who denounced their own leaders as corrupt and complained that they routinely had to pay bribes to receive ordinary services.
“The Pope is right,” said Joel Muhemereri Amani, 21, an art student. “Because the country is bad, imagine, to enter anywhere you have to corrupt the police. And I hope that the government, the police, will change in that regard.”
Genovic Lobombo, a medical student, said he encountered corruption during his student days. “To be successful, you have to give money,” he said. “There is corruption here.”
The United Nations says African economies lose nearly $150 billion to corruption every year.
“You see, corruption is a scourge that exists in many countries around the world,” said Patrick Muyaya, communications minister and government spokesman, after the Pope’s speech.
“There are structural problems related to the organization of the country. So we will work to ensure that everyone who works can make money by the sweat of their brow,” he told Reuters.
The 86-year-old pope, who arrived in Congo on Tuesday, will fly to neighboring South Sudan on Friday. He will join the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland in what the three Christian leaders have described as an unprecedented “pilgrimage of peace”.
South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, is also struggling with conflict and hunger after a civil war that was mainly fought along ethnic lines and claimed 400,000 lives.
(Additional Reporting by Sonia Rolley; Writing by Philip Pullella and Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Nick Macfie, Alexandra Hudson)