Pope brings message of hope to Congolese people, Burlington parishioner says
Jules Wetchi, founder and president of the Congolese Catholic Community in Burlington, showed a cellphone video his brother sent from Pope Francis’ Feb. 1 Mass in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. “The pope went there as a representative of Jesus Christ and gave a message of hope,” he said.
Francis is the first pontiff to visit since St. John Paul II’s 1985 apostolic journey.
“This was a big event for the people of DRC,” said Wetchi, a native of that central African country.
“People were very happy to see the popemobile,” he added with a smile.
“People went there to receive the blessing from the pope. It was very important,” said Wetchi, a parishioner of The Cathedral of St. Joseph in Burlington and a member of the Congolese Choir there. “For many, it was the first time they had seen a pope. They were very happy to see him and to receive the blessing from God through the pope.”
Other members of the choir — Marceline Danil, Malenga Alimasi and Hadidja Petro — are from DRC and have family members and friends there who saw the pope in Kinshasa. “They were very happy the pope went there,” Petro said. “He gave them comfort.”
The mineral-rich African nation is no longer known as Zaire, and evangelical churches now thrive in the traditionally Catholic country. But two things have remained discouragingly the same: Congo is still characterized by extreme poverty and violent armed conflict — twin conditions fueled in part by the consumer demands of economically advanced countries.
The country still struggles to find stability, peace and a way to ensure that its vast store of natural resources benefit the Congolese people and not primarily foreign governments or the multinational corporations that extract the minerals and gems and leave behind little more than a scarred earth.
Almost half of the world’s cobalt reserves are within its borders. Cobalt is used in electric car batteries, computers and cellphones.
“Everyone needs the minerals of DRC,” Wetchi said.
While the United Nations has kept a continuous peacekeeping presence, Congo wars, including the multi-nation Second Congo War (1998-2003) that claimed 5.4 million lives, have been a gruesomely consistent occurrence for more than 60 years.
“These problems cause migration,” Wetchi said. “That is why you see so many [Congolese] people here [in the United States] because of war there.”
The hands that will save Congo and build a future worthy of its people belong to the Congolese people, to each one of them, but especially the young, Pope Francis said during his visit.
The pope met Feb. 2 with 65,000 young people in Kinshasa’s Martyrs’ Stadium, a soccer stadium named to honor four politicians hanged there in 1966 by the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.
In a country where most people suffering from decades of violence and atrocities, Pope Francis told the Congolese to lay down their weapons and their rancor.
“That is what Christ wants. He wants to anoint us with his forgiveness, to give us peace and the courage to forgive others in turn — the courage to grant others a great amnesty of the heart,” he said in his homily Feb. 1 during a Mass on the vast field of Ndolo airport in Kinshasa.
For decades, the Catholic Church has been at the forefront of efforts to bring peace, education and health care to the people of Democratic Republic of Congo.
The pope was scheduled to travel to Kinshasa Jan. 31-Feb. 3 before making an ecumenical pilgrimage to Juba, South Sudan, Feb. 3-5 with Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury and the Rev. Iain Greenshields, moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
—Cori Fugere Urban in Vermont contributed to this report.