Hardly anyone is let through at Ndolo without proper vetting. At the barriers of the domestic airport, soldiers only wave through travelers with their suitcases, as well as a truck loaded with steel beams which will be used to build an open-air church on the site.
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On Wednesday, Pope Francis will hold celebrate Mass here for the people of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The 86-year-old pontiff had planned to visit last year, but needed to postpone his trip for six months due to health reasons.
The pope will travel to Congo with a message of peace, said Ettore Balestrero, the Vatican’s ambassador, adding;
“The pope wants to comfort the Congolese who have suffered so much in recent years, he wants to heal the open wounds of this violence.”
It’s been 37 years since the last visit of a pope to the central African country. Back then, when Congo was still Zaire, Pope John Paul II met with former President Mobutu Sese Seko. As it was then, Kinshasa today is still a city with atmosphere, known for its bars, rumba music and flaunted wealth. It is also a metropolis of contrasts: A large portion of the estimated 15 million inhabitants live in poverty.
The conflicts in eastern Congo are so tangled that a simple message of peace from the pontiff is not likely to untie those knots. But for those who are caught up in it, perhaps it would be comforting to know that they are not completely forgotten.