Since his first speech in Kinshasa, Pope Francis has been asking the world not to close its eyes, ears and mouth in the face of what is happening in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and throughout Africa. In the afternoon of the second day of the trip, in the hall of the apostolic nunciature, we were confronted with a dramatic review of the conflicts and violence ravaging the east of the country that is plagued by ethnic and territorial struggles, conflicts that are linked to land ownership, the blasphemous hatreds of those who kill in the name of a false god. A country plagued by war “unleashed by an insatiable greed for raw materials and money”.
Only silence and tears could accompany the stories that were presented to the Pope, such as that of the young farmer Ladislas, who saw men dressed as soldiers kill, tear his father to pieces, and kidnap his mother.
Such as that of Bijoux, who in 2020, at the age of fifteen, on her way to fetch water at the river, was kidnapped by a band of rebels, and was raped for 19 months by their commander. She managed to escape while pregnant. Today, she stood facing the Successor of Peter, together with her twin daughters.
Such as that of Imelda, who ended up as a hostage in the hands of the rebels one Friday night in 2005, aged sixteen, and kept as a sex slave for three months: five to ten men abused her every day. She was forced, in order not to end up in pieces herself, to eat the flesh of the men killed...
Only silence and tears. Francis was touched and moved. He repeated the name of Jesus, because with him “evil no longer has the last word over life… With Jesus, every tomb can become a cradle, every Calvary an Easter garden.” With him, hope is reborn “for those who have endured evil, and even those who perpetrated it”.
The victims, engaged in a journey of forgiveness and reconciliation, placed some symbols of their suffering — a machete, a mat, nails — under the large crucifix that stood beside the Pope. It is hard even to imagine the possibility of forgiveness, after hearing their words and the ocean of violence, suffering and humiliation they suffered. If it happens, it is by pure grace. Only a miracle can make it happen. A miracle that is possible for those who live by the One who transformed the tomb into the beginning of a new story that we witnessed as the sun set over Kinshasa.
By Andrea Tornielli