At 8:10 a.m. on January 31, 2023, the papal flight took off from Fiumicino airport for N’djili International Airport in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it landed around 3 p.m., and the pope was welcomed by the prime minister. Pope Francis then proceeded to the Palais de la Nation, located in La Gombe, north of Kinshasa, on the banks of the Congo River, which is the official residence of the president of the republic.
It was here, in the Great Hall of Congress, that the Belgian Parliament, in the presence of King Baudouin, proclaimed Congo’s independence on June 30, 1960. The pope was welcomed by President Felix Tshisekedi Tshilombo, also known as “Fatshi,” and together they went to the Salle Présidentielle, where a private meeting took place. Then they went to the garden of the Palais de la Nation, where political and religious authorities, the diplomatic corps, businesspeople, and representatives of civil society and culture were present, about 1,000 people in all. Here the president and the pope delivered speeches.
Francis spoke of Congo as “a continent in the great African Continent,” a “green lung” with a geography “so rich and varied.” But history has not been as generous: “Torn by war, the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to witness within its confines conflicts and forced migrations, and is suffering from terrible forms of exploitation, unworthy of humanity and of creation.” The pope now comes “as a pilgrim of reconciliation and peace.” He compared the earth to a diamond that must recover the dignity of its beauty; economic and enslaving colonialism has made its diamonds bloody. “May Africa be the protagonist of its own destiny!” he said to applause.