Massive crowds expected for papal mass in DR Congo capital
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Massive crowds expected for papal mass in DR Congo capital

Pope Frances is expected to draw even bigger crowds on the second day of his visit
Pope Frances is expected to draw even bigger crowds on the second day of his visit

KINSHASA - Up to a million people are tipped to celebrate a papal mass in DR Congo's capital on Wednesday, on the second day of Pope Francis' visit to the conflict-torn country.

Tens of thousands of worshippers had already begun to flock to Kinshasa's N'Dolo airport on Tuesday night for a vigil held ahead of the open-air mass.

"I have come the day before to be able to attend the mass as I am not really in the habit of getting up early," said Franciane Sudila, 24.

"I have brought some water and a change of clothes for tomorrow," she said.

Veronique Mapinzi also prepared to pass the night in Ndolo with her baby.

"I cannot miss this benediction of the pope, that is why I have come here with my child," she said.

Patrick Kazadi, 31, said he hoped that the help of "God, through the intercession of the Holy Father, will end this situation of war" plaguing DR Congo for years.

The 86-year-old pontiff had arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo earlier in the day, on the first leg of a six-day trip to Africa that will also include troubled South Sudan.

Huge crowds thronged the streets for a glimpse of the popemobile, cheering and waving flags as Francis drove past.

Even bigger crowds -- of up to a million people -- are expected at the mass Francis is due to give at N'dolo at 9:30 am (8:30 am GMT).

A former Belgian colony the size of continental western Europe, the DRC is Africa's most Catholic country.

About 40 percent of the population of some 100 million people follows the church of Rome, according to estimates.

Another 35 percent of the population is Protestant of various denominations; nine percent is Muslim; and 10 percent Kimbanguist -- a Christian movement born in the Belgian Congo.

Official Vatican statistics put the proportion of Catholics in the DRC at 49 percent of the population.

During a speech to politicians and dignitaries in Kinshasa's presidential palace on Tuesday, Francis denounced the "economic colonialism" he suggested had wreaked lasting damage in the DRC.

"This country, massively plundered, has not benefited adequately from its immense resources," he said, to applause.

Despite abundant mineral reserves, the DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world. About two-thirds of Congolese people live on less than $2.15 a day, according to the World Bank.

- Meeting conflict victims -

Francis is also due to meet victims of the conflict in eastern Congo in Kinshasa on Wednesday afternoon after the mega-mass.

After that, he will talk to representatives from charitable organisations.

The DRC's turbulent east has long been plagued by dozens of armed groups. Since late 2021, M23 rebels have also captured swaths of territory in the eastern North Kivu province, coming close to its capital Goma.

The trip to DRC and South Sudan had originally been planned for July 2022, but it was postponed due to the pontiff's knee pain that has forced him in recent months to use a wheelchair.

Security concerns were also said to play a role in delaying the trip, and a stop in Goma -- a city of over a million people on the border with Rwanda -- is no longer on the itinerary.

"I would have liked to go to Goma too, but with the war, you can't go there," Francis told reporters on the plane on the way to DRC.

The Argentine pontiff, in his speech in Kinshasa on Tuesday, urged the need to address the conflict and said he supported regional peace efforts.

Francis also underlined the need for investment in education, and free-and-fair elections, among other issues.

On Friday, the pope travels to South Sudan's capital Juba.

The current foreign papal visit is Francis' fortieth since being elected in 2013.

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