Pope Francis delivered a message of peace on Wednesday in the Democratic Republic of Congo as he met survivors and victims of the atrocities of the war in eastern DRC.
On Wednesday afternoon, the pontiff was confronted with a stark reality as he received emotional testimonies from victims of violence who have been fighting in North and South Kivu and Ituri since the late 1990s.
Men, women and even children, some who had their arms cut off took turns to testify about their suffering. They showed the Pope their injured body parts.
The survivors came to Kinshasa to tell Francis about their ordeal. Their bodies bear the impact of the violence in eastern DRC. In front of the Pope, they expressed what they need: to find peace and live in [their] community without having to pay the heavy price of brutal death.
Women narrated how they were made sexual slaves by rebels or armed groups, and many had seen their relatives killed or cut up in front of them.
According to Aimeda Wakarungulu, a former hostage of the rebels, the attackers forced their captives to eat human flesh of previously killed victims.
These survivors of the violence in eastern DRC then laid machetes, knives and other weapons before the Pope with the hope that they will never hear of war and violence in their provinces again.
Shocked by the violence
In response to these testimonies, the Pope confessed that "he is shocked by this inhumane violence". Francis denounced the fact that, according to him, the international media do not talk enough about what is happening in the DRC. The Pope said that "the violence has gone on long enough, and it must stop".
Francis began by "condemning the armed violence, the massacres and the bloody and illegal exploitation of Congo's wealth and the attempt to partition the country".
"The war is fuelled by internal and external forces for profit and advantage," Francis said, describing the war as "partisan struggles where ethnic and territorial dynamics are intertwined".
In reference to the conflict with its neighbour Rwanda, Pope Francis urged "all those who live in the DRC to commit themselves to building a better future".
"Peace will not fall from the sky," he said.
He stated that "a new future will come about if the other, whether Tutsi or Hutu, is no longer an adversary or enemy, but a brother or sister". This was a clear reference to part played by the M23 rebels, a Tutsi-led group, in the conflict.
Knowing the context of escalation between the DRC and its neighbour Rwanda and even the distrust that some in Congo have of Uganda, the Pope said that "a neighbour is a brother".
"Brothers and sisters, your neighbours are your brothers. All your neighbours are your brothers, whether they are Burundians, Ugandans or Rwandans," Francis said.
"Peace is possible, let us believe in it and work for it. This country will not have peace until it is achieved in its eastern part," he added.
The pope delivered same message of peace when he celebrated Mass at the Ndolo airport Wednesday morning which was attended by president Félix Tshisekedi and the political class in DRC.