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Pope Francis: More than a million people attend the papal mass in the DRC

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo

More than a million people attended Pope Francis’ mass in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Wednesday, the Vatican press office said, citing figures estimated by local authorities.

Francis’ trip to the DRC – the first papal visit since 1985 – comes at a time when the African nation is beset by armed fighting and a worsening refugee crisis.

It’s part of a six-day trip to the DRC and South Sudan – two countries where Catholics make up around half of the population and where the Church is a key player in the health and education systems as well as in efforts to strengthen democracy. Both countries have abundant natural resources, but struggle with poverty and conflict.

Pope Francis celebrates a mass on Wednesday at Kinshasa's N'Dolo airport in the DRC.

A CNN crew on the ground saw crowds singing and dancing at N’Dolo airport from the early hours of the morning, awaiting their first glimpse of the pope, who toured the airfield in an open popemobile.

Francis spoke to attendees in his homily on peace and directly challenged those who wield arms.

“Let this be a good time for you, who in this country you call Christian but commit violence,” Francis said. “The Lord says to you, ‘Lay down your arms and embrace mercy. “”

“We Christians are called to cooperate with everyone, to break the cycle of violence, to dismantle the machinations of hatred,” the pope said.

Francis said the population suffered from “painful wounds, continually infected with hatred and violence, while the medicine of justice and the balm of hope never seem to arrive”, according to Reuters.

Decades of militia violence have gripped the DRC, as state forces struggle to contain rebel groups. The conflict between government troops and the M23 rebel group, which seeks to control the country from its stronghold in eastern DRC, has left scores dead and thousands displaced.

According to the United Nations World Food Programme, 26 million people in the DRC face severe starvation.

Francis met victims of violence from the East during his visit and said he was “left speechless” after hearing their harrowing stories.

“We can only weep in silence,” the pope said, thanking the victims for their courageous testimony.

He is due to leave Kinshasa on Friday for South Sudan’s capital, Juba, where he will be joined by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Church of Scotland General Assembly Moderator Iain Greenshields.

cnn World Gt

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