Even the day’s painful afternoon meeting with the victims of gruesome crimes in the country’s embattled east, when survivors put machetes and knives on the floor near the pope to punctuate the horror of their accounts, seemed to remind him of his mission. “Thank you for these testimonies,” he said gravely.
And on Thursday, the mere sight of the white Toyota pickup that had been converted into a popemobile triggered an eruption in the stadium, already pulsating with music and dancing under the searing morning sun.
“The pope travels the world, but it’s different when he comes here,” said Iyefa Paulus, 47. “We are joyous that he has come here, to face us.”
Laurent Makesa Pasinya, 6, walked around the stands in the red robes of a cardinal (“He has the vocation,” his mother said). Puati Longo, 44, wore a leaf-patterned shirt spotted with drawings of Bibles and the motto, “The Bible is my weapon.”
“We have so many difficulties,” he said, “but the pope coming makes me so happy.”
When Francis had reached the stage, and an aide rolled his wheelchair to his seat, he took in some performances of traditional dance. Speakers, using the French still spoken in Congo decades after throwing off Belgian colonial rule, concluded with impassioned calls of “Vivre le Pape!”
“I am delighted to meet you face to face,” Francis said.
In his speech, he warned the country’s young to avoid 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.”