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    NewsAfricaThe Pope, in the footsteps of Muhammad Ali in Kinshasa

    The Pope, in the footsteps of Muhammad Ali in Kinshasa

    Kinshasa was the center of the world on October 30, 1974. Muhammad Ali and George Foreman fought in the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo—then Zaire—for the world heavyweight title. The first, at 32, sought to change his image after three years without a license for refusing to fight in Vietnam. “They have never called me black shit,” he defended with his sharp tongue. His opponent, a young Foreman, heavyweight world champion at 25, had the local public against him thanks to a campaign organized by Ali with which he managed to send a political, racial and civil rights message that he elevated boxing beyond just a fight. Kinshasa was also a huge party on those days to the rhythm of Zaire 74, a three-day festival with the best pop and soul stars: James Brown, Celia Cruz, Bill Withers… It happened at the stadium on May 20, which It became obsolete and was replaced years later by the great Estadio de los Martires. On Thursday, this venue once again had its moment of international glory.

    Ali’s fight, financed by the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko to clean up his image, brought together some 60,000 people in what would be called forever Rumble in the Jungle [combate en la jungla]. The Pope knows the story. On the plane to Kinshasa, he heard it from a journalist who gave him Norman Mailer’s book that recalls that event (The fight).

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    On Thursday morning, some 65,000 people, mostly young people, greeted the pontiff at Congo’s largest multi-purpose sports center with a somewhat different but just as rousing chorus. They had been waiting for him for hours. They had prepared dances, music, food. A party similar to the one the day before at the N’dolo airport, but with an average age of no more than 17 years and a speech designed for them. “It is sad to see young people who spend hours in front of a phone. After they stared at the screen for so long, you look at their faces and see that they don’t smile, their eyes are tired and bored. Life is not chosen by touching the screen with your finger ”, he proposed in what would be the greatest act of rebellion of a current young man.

    The Pope’s message, in a country where Catholicism is growing and the validity of his speech has not withered, was received with devotion. “Santo subito!” Some banners prayed asking for his canonization while he was alive. In this part of the world it is a true myth. A boy of about six years was even dressed as a cardinal, wearing all the accessories and causing the fascination of the entire entourage of the Holy See (some with the same outfit as the boy). “Don’t get carried away like a dry log in a river of mud. Feel outraged, without ever falling for the flattery of corruption, which is persuasive but poisoned. No to corruption! ”, The pontiff shouted almost at the end of his speech, raising the stadium to its feet, which began to chant his name and jump madly.

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    Francisco tried to continue speaking, but the public, completely ecstatic by the moment of collective communion, would not let him and continued shouting in Lingala and against the country’s president, Felix Antoine Tshisekedial, whom they blamed for their ills and reminded him that his mandate is about to end: “Kanyaka ezali kaka! [La corrupcion continua]” Y “Biso ba jeunes, toza na nisala te [Nosotros, los jovenes, no tenemos trabajo]”.

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    In one of the stands was Jean Makaya, 33 years old. He baseball cap, gold chain, wall clock on his wrist. He was accompanying his son Erick, who was wearing a T-shirt with the Pope’s photo and he did not stop singing. His father — the boy’s grandfather — witnessed the fight of the century, says Jean. “He was always like a legend at home. It was an incredible moment for the city. But this is better, believe me. Look at all these people how they are, ”he opines. You would have to do a survey, of course. But there are many differences between that October of 1974 and now.

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    The moment Ali knocked Foreman down during the fight in Zaire.
    The moment Ali knocked Foreman down during the fight in Zaire.PA

    Ali had just converted to Islam at the time and the Pope preaches Catholicism. In addition, the public shouted in ecstasy that “Ali Bumaye” (Ali, kill him), in the antipodes of messages of peace. But also, the boxers then ended up in Kinshasa due to a miscalculation. Don King, then a young and inexperienced boxing promoter, promised each of them five million dollars for the fight. The problem is that he later found no one in his right mind to pay for it. The only offer, in fact, came from the heart of Africa and was put on the table by Mobutu, eager to whitewash his regime. The Pope, and in that there are some similarities, knows that there are elections in the country within a year. And that his visit will try to be profitable. But that they take away what was danced today from those 80,000 people.

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