As early as dawn, the faithful flock to Kinshasa’s old military airport to see the Pope. Women, men and children from the Democratic Republic of the Congo celebrate long before the mass begins, singing, dancing and waving little flags. Many wear brightly colored dresses or shirts made of fabric with Francis’ likeness on it. “Bandeko, boboto,” says the pontiff at the beginning of his sermon in Congo’s national language, Lingala, and more than a million people cheer the guest from the Vatican. Francis smiles and looks happy – he had wished for such enthusiasm.

During his trip to the Congo and from Friday to South Sudan, the pope wants to promote peace and charity in two countries where violence and bloodshed have increased in many places. At the service at N’Dolo airport, the Pope then also preached “breaking the cycle of violence and smashing the intrigues of hatred.” All those who commit acts of violence want to use this moment as an opportunity to find peace, he says.

According to the Kinshasa police, more than a million people came. It was one of the largest crowds Francis had ever celebrated with. A trade fair in the Philippine capital of Manila still holds the record, with around six million people braving the rain at the beginning of 2015, according to estimates.

“Sign of Encouragement”

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has a population of more than 100 million – almost half of whom are Catholics, according to the Vatican – the Pope hopes that his word will carry weight. So many people long for an end to the conflicts and attacks that have recently increased, especially in the east on the borders with Rwanda and Uganda. The Pope’s visit was “a sign of encouragement and consolation,” said Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, Archbishop of Kinshasa.

After Francis’ recent trips abroad had in some cases caused a rather manageable response locally, Wednesday in Kinshasa was reminiscent of major papal events of the past, for example with John Paul II or Francis himself. Because the service was celebrated in the so-called Zairian rite of mass with songs typical of the country it was even more colorful and emotional.

Thousands of people have secured their seats on the tarmac since early morning as the sun rose red in eastern Kinshasa. A large choir and band sang at a deafening volume for the service. Little girls in white dresses practiced dances. A few young men who couldn’t get close to the altar climbed onto old airplanes to get a glimpse.

Félix lives around 300 kilometers from Kinshasa, and he arrived with other young people early in the morning. “Francis is a good man,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot about him, but I wanted to come here to see him for myself.” He and friends brought a poster showing two Congolese martyrs. “We want the Pope to canonize her,” says Félix. “Santi Subito” is written accordingly on the banner.

terror for three decades

A canonization seems a no brainer compared to trying to bring peace to the entire African continent. Congo President Félix Tshisekedi recalled on Tuesday evening how “enemies of peace” and terrorist groups from abroad had been threatening and attacking his fellow citizens for three decades. “Because the international community is silent and silent, tens of millions have already died,” he said.

At the airport fair, Tshisekedi sat in the front row under a pavilion. He thanked the Pope that he wanted to meet a group of victims of violence from the east of the country and that he would learn first-hand how bad the situation was there. The encounter and a meeting with employees of aid organizations were on the program on Wednesday evening.