A huge crowd of singing and dancing worshippers turned out to attend a papal mass in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on Wednesday, the second day of Pope Francis’s visit to the country.
People flocked to the tarmac of Kinshasa’s N’Dolo Airport for the open-air mass, which was due to begin at 9:30am (08:30 GMT).
Many of the faithful in the megacity of some 15 million people began to arrive at the airport on Tuesday night to assure themselves a spot.
As crowds poured into the airport under a bright sun and heavy security, 700 choir singers rehearsed in a festive atmosphere, while worshippers danced and waved flags.
The 86-year-old pontiff had arrived in the DRC on Tuesday on the first leg of a six-day trip to Africa that will also include South Sudan.
Huge crowds also thronged the streets for a glimpse of the popemobile as Francis drove past.
A former Belgian colony the size of continental Western Europe, the DRC is Africa’s most Catholic country. Official Vatican statistics put the proportion of Catholics in the DRC at 49 percent of the population.
During a speech to politicians and dignitaries in Kinshasa’s presidential palace on Tuesday, Francis denounced the “economic colonialism” he suggested had wreaked lasting damage in the DRC.
“This country, massively plundered, has not benefitted adequately from its immense resources,” he said, to applause.
Despite abundant mineral reserves, the DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world. About two-thirds of Congolese people live on less than $2 a day, according to the World Bank.
The DRC’s turbulent east has long been plagued by dozens of armed groups. Since late 2021, M23 rebels have also captured swaths of territory in the eastern North Kivu province, coming close to its capital Goma.
The trip to DRC and South Sudan had originally been planned for July 2022, but it was postponed due to the pontiff’s knee pain that has forced him in recent months to use a wheelchair.
On Friday, the pope travels to South Sudan’s capital Juba.
The current foreign papal visit is Francis’s 40th since being elected in 2013.