Not everything was going to be bad news for Catholicism in this decade. At least in terms of numbers and vigour. Kinshasa, capital of the Republic of the Congo, gave a sample this morning of how Africa has become in recent years the main engine of faithful and vocations in the world, in the muscle fiber. The only place where faith grows at a rate that invites a certain optimism to a church that has seen how evangelists, Protestants or Muslims accelerated in recent times. All ills are cured by that tide of people who awaited the Pope at the old N’Dolo airport, with a capacity for more than a million people. Many of them had spent the night awaiting the opening of the doors of the compound where the most massive mass of this pontificate was to take place after the one celebrated in the Philippines in January 2015, and celebrated in the particular Congolese rite: a modality accepted in the Council Vatican II and which makes it possible to bring this continent even closer to the Catholic Church.
Africa is the future of the Church, no one doubts it. And the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a country with a Catholic majority. But the reception of the Pope, who landed acclaimed on the streets on Tuesday as a true idol of the masses, has surprised even the Holy See. Perhaps the frustrated visit in July helped to increase the illusion even more. The country, with 90% of the Christian population, is also by far the African state with the most Catholics: half of its 105 million inhabitants are, and it has more than 6,000 priests, 10,000 nuns and more than 4,000 seminarians — 3.6% of the global total of young people studying to be a priest. “For us, he is the reference,” says Marie Ndubele, a 17-year-old student, pointing to her brother, her priest. “He is a person respected by all”, she insists while he does not lose detail of the Pope’s homily, after a long welcome party.
Francisco, in a dynamic, colorful and extremely musical mass (in some moments prior to the homily it seemed like a rave Catholic), focused his words on the idea of forgiveness in a nation torn by war and ethnic conflicts. “We cannot allow resignation and fatalism to grow. If this climate is breathed around us, let it not be so for us. In a world wracked by violence and war, Christians do like Jesus. Peace is born when the wounds suffered do not leave scars of hate, but become a place to make room for others and accept their weaknesses. Then, weaknesses become opportunities and forgiveness becomes the path to peace. It is not about leaving everything behind as if nothing had happened, but about opening your heart to others with love.
After a few hours, the pontiff had a meeting with a group of survivors of the armed conflicts that plagued the east of the country. Before seeing them, he made reference to the issue and the perpetrators of the violence. “In this country you call yourself a Christian, but you commit acts of violence; to you, the Lord says: ‘Lay down your weapons, embrace mercy’. And to all the hurt and oppressed of this town he says: ‘Don’t be afraid to put your wounds in mine, your wounds in my wounds.’ Let’s do it, brothers and sisters.  Christians are called to collaborate with everyone, to break the cycle of violence, to dismantle the plots of hate”.
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The Pope celebrated the multitudinous mass through the Congolese rite, which has many differences in liturgy and traditional dances and songs. This form of celebration, which fundamentally turns the Mass into an unusually joyous and open party, was accepted by the Second Vatican Council and is likely to generate some irritation in the most conservative sector of the Church, which saw Francis recommending no more use of the traditional rite, which implied saying the mass in Latin and responded to pre-conciliar premises. The Congolese language, however, is gaining strength and is a way of bringing African communities closer to the Catholic Church, also outside the continent. In many European countries, such as Spain, these communities celebrate it.
The strength of Africa, despite Francisco’s efforts to give relevance to the new realities of Catholicism, continues to be underrepresented at the top of the Church. In fact, apart from Oceania, it is the continent with the fewest cardinals: 26 in total, of which only 10 are voters as they are under 80 years of age. Latin America has 32, North America 27, Asia 31 and Europe 105.
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