At the end of the general audience Wednesday, Pope Francis spoke out against violence, particularly its escalation amid political protests taking place in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Unfortunately, troubling news continues to come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Therefore, I renew my call for everyone to commit to avoiding all forms of violence,” he said Jan. 24.
“On her part, the Church wants nothing other than to contribute to the peace and to the common good of society.”
The Democratic Republic of Congo is currently experiencing deadly political tensions as protesters, banned by the Congolese government, demand that President Joseph Kabila step down.
Dozens of people have died in political protests, and militia violence has increased, prompting fears of a return to civil war.
Under Kabila, who has held office since 2001, Congolese bishops have spoken out against the government’s human rights violations and the president’s plan to remove term limits that bar him from re-election.
The bishops also helped mediate an agreement between the country’s ruling political coalition and opposition leaders, culminating in a Dec. 31, 2016 agreement.
The agreement allowed Kabila to remain in office beyond his mandate but he must step down after an election to be held this year. However, the country’s electoral commission then said an election could not be organized until December 2018. The president’s opponents fear Kabila aims to remain in power, while the president has blamed delays on a slow voter registration process.
The eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo are also suffering from armed conflict, with millions of people forced from their homes.
Francis’ appeal for peace was made at the end of the general audience in St. Peter’s Square. Following just two days after his return from a Jan. 15-22 apostolic visit to Chile and Peru, the Pope recapped the events of the trip, highlighting some important moments.
He noted that in Chile, the trip was preceded by protests, for various reasons, which he said made the motto of the visit, "My peace I give you," even more "current and alive."
“These are the words of Jesus addressed to the disciples, which we repeat in every Mass: the gift of peace, which only Jesus, dead and risen, can give to those who entrust themselves to Him,” he said.
In his meeting with Chilean authorities the Pope encouraged them to continue developing their democracy and to listen to the voices of the poor, young, elderly and immigrants.
In his homily for the first Mass of the trip, he emphasized the importance of the Beatitudes, especially "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."
The Pope said that an important moment of the trip for him was his visit to the women's prison in Santiago. "The faces of those women, many of them young mothers, with their little ones in their arms, expressed hope” in spite of everything, he said.
His meetings with consecrated men and women and with bishops were also “very intense,” he stated. During his visit with the bishops, he urged them to reject any compromise when it comes to the sexual abuse of minors, and to trust in God, “who through this hard proof purifies and renews his ministers.”
Two other Masses were also celebrated in Chile: one in the north in Iquique, and the other in the south, in the Araucania region, where the Mapuche Indians live.
He also met with young people and with students and faculty of the Catholic University of Chile, encouraging them to ask themselves, in the words of the Chilean saint, Alberto Hurtado: "What would Christ do in my place?"
In Peru, the motto of Francis' visit was "United by hope." There, he said that his meeting with indigenous communities of the Amazon in Peru was "emblematic" of the unity that can be found not in uniformity, but in all the richness of the differences inherited from history and culture.
Speaking to political and civil authorities, he strongly denounced ecological-social degradation and corruption, which he said on Wednesday, “ruins hearts.”
“And I remarked that no one is exempt from responsibility in the face of these two wounds and that the commitment to counter them concerns everyone,” he continued.
In Trujillo, Peru, the Pope held Mass, met with priests and consecrated, and participated in a Marian celebration, in which he crowned the Immaculate Virgin of the Gate of Otuzco, a popular Marian devotion in Peru, the “Mother of Mercy and Hope.”
The final day of the trip took place in Lima, "with a strong spiritual and ecclesial accent," he said. In Lima he met with around 500 contemplative women religious, who he said are "a true 'lung' of faith and prayer for the Church and for the whole society."
He also prayed before the relics of five Peruvian saints in the Cathedral of Lima and again met with bishops of the country.
“As always, the word of Jesus gives full meaning to everything,” he said. “And so too the Gospel of the last Eucharistic celebration summarized God's message to his people in Chile and Peru: 'Repent and believe in the Gospel' (Mk 1:15).”
“Thus — the Lord seemed to say — you will receive the peace that I give you and you will be united in my hope,” he concluded.