Pope Francis has urged tens of thousands of young people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) to work towards a better future and shun corruption in the deeply Catholic country, which is plagued by violence in its east.
The 86-year-old Pontiff arrived at Martyrs’ stadium in the capital Kinshasa on his popemobile, offering blessings to an ecstatic crowd, who roared and danced in the stands.
Young people started to flock to the 80,000-capacity stadium overnight.
Organisers put the size of the crowd yesterday at 65,000, on the third day of the Argentine’s visit to Africa’s biggest Catholic country.
About 60% of the central African nation of roughly 100mn people are under the age of 20, according to UN figures.
As well as conflict, young people face persistent unemployment.
Addressing the stadium, the Pope urged the crowd to build a better future for the church and their country.
“You are part of a greater history, one that calls you to take an active role as a builder of communion, a champion of fraternity, an indomitable dreamer of a more united world,” he said.
The Pope’s speech was interrupted so often by applause and cheers that at one point an organiser took a microphone and shouted “let the Pope speak” before he could continue.
“Beware of 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,” Francis told them. “You know what happens: first, you believe in prejudices about others, then you justify hatred, then violence, and in the end, you find yourself in the middle of a war.”
The Pope also asked the crowd to chant “no to corruption” after him.
“Never give in to the persuasive but poisonous temptations of corruption,” he said in Italian.
Some of the youngsters chanted slogans hostile to Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi.
The anti-corruption theme struck a chord with many young people in the stadium, who denounced their own leaders as corrupt and complained of routinely having to pay bribes to receive what should be ordinary services.
“The Pope is right,” said Joel Muhemereri Amani, 21, an art student. “Because the country is going badly, imagine, to enter somewhere you have to corrupt the police. And I hope that the government, the police will change in this respect.”
Genovic Lobombo, a medical student, said he had come up against corruption during his time at university.
“In order to succeed, you have to give money,” he said. “Corruption reigns here.”
The United Nations says African economies lose nearly $150 billion to corruption each year.
Francis later met Congolese Prime Minister Sama Lukonde at the Apostolic Nunciature in Kinshasa, the Holy See’s diplomatic delegation.
He then met priests at the city’s Notre-Dame du Congo cathedral and warned them against the “temptation of worldly comfort”.
About 40% of the country’s population is Catholic, according to official statistics, and the church retains huge influence despite secularism being enshrined in the constitution.
On Wednesday, the Pope hosted a mass at Kinshasa’s airport that organisers said drew about 1mn people, some of whom had camped out all night to get a spot.
He later met victims of conflict in the DR Congo’s mineral-rich east, some of whom had suffered appalling violence.
His face grave, Francis called for mercy from God.
“May he convert the hearts of those who carry out brutal atrocities, which bring shame upon all humanity,” he said.
He said the conflict was being driven by greed and called on combatants to lay down their arms.
Scores of armed groups roam eastern DR Congo, many of them a legacy of two wars at the end of the 20th century that sucked in countries from around the region.
The DR Congo is replete with minerals, timber and fresh water, yet remains one of the poorest countries in the world where corruption is entrenched.
On Tuesday, the Pope – speaking before an audience of Congolese politicians and other dignitaries – said that the DR Congo had been hamstrung by a long history of exploitation.
“Political exploitation gave way to an economic colonialism that was equally enslaving,” he said. “As a result, this country, massively plundered, has not benefited adequately from its immense resources.”
Many Congolese warmly welcomed the Pope’s message, and some hoped it would bring change.
This morning Francis will address Congolese bishops in Kinshasa before boarding a plane for South Sudan, where he will stay for three days.

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