VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis greeted members of the Congolese community in Rome, borrowing words from their native languages Sunday to wish them peace and joy during an especially vibrant ceremony at St. Peter’s Basilica.
Francis, 85, was supposed to make a July 2-7 pilgrimage to Congo and South Sudan. But the trip was called off last month due to persistent knee pain that has caused the pope to use a wheelchair or a cane in recent weeks.
His itinerary for the since-postponed trip would have had him in Congo on Sunday, celebrating Mass at the airport in the capital, Kinshasha.
Instead, some 2,000 Congolese or descendants of people from Congo joined the pope in Mass at the Vatican. They clapped when Francis began his homily by speaking a few words in Congo’s languages.
Prayers by the faithful were recited in Swahili, Lingala, Tshiluba and Kikongo, the country’s four official languages.
“A Christian always brings peace,” Francis said, reflecting the theme of reconciliation he planned to thread through his Africa pilgrimage.
The colorful clothes and vibrant singing of the congregants made for a sharp contrast with the often somber attire and chants of clergy, nuns and rank-and-file faithful at many basilica ceremonies.
A day earlier, Francis sent a video message to the people and leaders of Congo and South Sudan that exhorted them to forge new paths of reconciliation, peace and development. He expressed disappointment that he couldn’t travel this month but promised to visit as soon as possible.
In his Sunday homily, the pontiff renewed his encouragement.
“Today, dear brothers and sisters, let us pray for peace and reconciliation” in Congo, Francis said. He described he country, which is one of the world’s poorest despite a wealth of natural resources, as “so wounded and exploited.”
The Catholic Church played a role in the establishment of democracy in Congo and has advocated for human rights there. The church deployed about 40,000 election observers to monitor the 2019 vote that brought Felix Tshisekedi to the presidency in what was Congo’s first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.
At the end of Mass, a nun, Rita Mboshu Kongo, addressed the pontiff in Italian, thanking him for his concern for Africa, wishing him good health and saying that Congo’s people were waiting for him to visit with open arms.
Francis, leaning on his cane, hobbled a few steps to his wheelchair, and an aide wheeled him out of the basilica as the faithful waved and sang joyfully.