Kinshasa was the center of the world on October 30, 1974. Muhammad Ali and George Foreman fought in the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo – then Zaire – for the world heavyweight title. The first, 32, wanted to change his image after three years without a license because he refused to fight in Vietnam. “They never called me black shit,” he defended himself with his sharp tongue. His opponent, a young Foreman, world heavyweight champion at 25, had the local public against him thanks to a campaign organized by Ali that managed to send a political, racist and civil rights message that he loved boxing over a clean fight. Kinshasa those days was also a huge party to the rhythm of Zaire 74, a three-day festival with the best stars of pop and soul: James Brown, Celia Cruz, Bill Withers… It happened on May 20 at the stadium, the It became obsolete and years later replaced by the large Estadio de los Mártires. On Thursday, this venue once again had its international fame.
Funded by dictator Mobutu Sese Seko to boost his image, Ali’s fight brought together some 60,000 people in what would forever be called the Rumble in the Jungle [combate en la jungla]. The Pope knows the story. On the plane to Kinshasa, he heard it from a journalist who gave him Norman Mailer’s book commemorating that event (El Combate).
On Thursday morning, around 65,000 people, mostly young people, greeted the Pope with a somewhat different but equally rousing choir in the largest multi-purpose sports center in Congo. They had waited for him for hours. They had prepared dances, music, food. A party similar to the day before at N’dolo airport, but with an average age of no more than 17 and a speech tailored to them. “It’s sad to see young people spending hours in front of a phone. After they stare at the screen for so long, you look at their faces and see that they are not smiling, their eyes are tired and bored. Life is not chosen by touching the screen with your finger,” he suggested, which would be the greatest act of rebellion by a contemporary young man.
Pope Francis waves from the popemobile upon his arrival at Kinshasa’s Martyrs’ Stadium before beginning the event that brought together young Congolese this Thursday, February 2. ALEXIS HUGUET (AFP)Around 65,000 young people and catechists from the Democratic Republic of the Congo eagerly awaited the start of the event, chaired by Pope Francis, which took place this Thursday, February 2, at the Martyrs Stadium in Kinsasa. Manuel Schwarz (DPA via Europe Press)Around 65,000 young people and catechists celebrated the arrival of Pope Francis, who drove his popemobile through the Stadium of Martyrs before beginning the act, which took place in Kinsasa this Thursday, February 2nd. Gregorio Borgia (APN)Participants pray at the end of the event, which took place this Thursday with Pope Francis at the Martyrs Stadium in Kinshasa. ALEXIS HUGUET (AFP)The Pope greets the dancers upon arrival at the event, held this Thursday at Martyrs Stadium in Kinsasa. Gregorio Borgia (APN)Young people and catechists celebrate the Pope’s arrival at Kinshasa’s Martyrs’ Stadium, where Pope Francis held an event this Thursday. CIRO FUSCO (EFE)Pope Francis gestures during the ceremony at the Kinshasa Martyrs Stadium, where he met with young people and catechists this Thursday, February 2. ARSENE MPIANA (AFP)Several young people during the ceremony held at Martyrs Stadium in Kinsasa this Thursday. At one point during the event, the Pope urged young people to shout “No to corruption,” prompting choirs to cheer the Pope and interrupt his speech on several occasions.” Moses Sawasawa (AP)The Pope during the event, held at the Martyrs’ Stadium in Kinshasa, which brought together around 65,000 young people and catechists.- (AFP)Some traditional dancers perform in front of Pope Francis during the meeting with young people and catechists that will be held this Thursday, January 2nd at the Kinshasa Martyrs’ Stadium. Simone Risoluti (Vatican Media via Portal)Several young people during the meeting with the Pope this Thursday at the Kinshasa Martyrs Stadium, which turned into a real party. Gregorio Borgia (AP)An assistant holds an umbrella as she leaves after the Pope’s meeting in Kinshasa this Thursday. ALEXIS HUGUET (AFP)Attendees sit behind a banner reflecting images of Pope Francis during his event this Thursday in Kinshasa. ALEXIS HUGUET (AFP)A dancer performs before Pope Francis during the meeting with young people and catechists taking place this Thursday, January 2, at the Kinshasa Martyrs’ Stadium. YARA NARDI (Portal)More than 65,000 young people and catechists had to go through a security check in Kinshasa this Thursday before entering the Stadium of Martyrs, where an event with the Pope was taking place. Jerome Delay (AP)Around 65,000 young people and catechists from the Democratic Republic of the Congo eagerly awaited the start of the event, chaired by Pope Francis, which took place this Thursday, February 2, at the Martyrs Stadium in Kinsasa. YARA NARDI (Portal)
The Pope’s message was received with reverence in a country where Catholicism is growing and the validity of his speech has not waned. “Santo subito!” Some banners asked for his canonization during his lifetime. It’s a real myth in this part of the world. A boy of about six was even dressed as a cardinal, wearing all the accessories and captivating the entire entourage of the Holy See (some wearing the same clothes as the boy). “Don’t get carried away like a dry log in a mud river. Feel outraged without ever falling for the flattery of corruption that is persuasive but poisonous. No to corruption!” the Pope shouted almost at the end of his speech, rousing the stadium to its feet, which started chanting his name and jumping like crazy.
Francisco tried to keep speaking, but the public, totally enthralled by the moment of collective communion, would not let him and continued shouting in Lingala and against the country’s President, Félix Antoine Tshisekedi, whom they blamed for their evils and on him Mandate is nearing the end: “Kanyaka ezali kaka! [La corrupción continúa]’ and ‘Biso ba jeunes, toza na nisala te [Nosotros, los jóvenes, no tenemos trabajo]“.
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Jean Makaya, 33 years old, sat in one of the stands. Baseball cap, gold chain, wall clock on wrist. He accompanied his son Erick, who was wearing a T-shirt with the Pope’s photo on it, and kept singing. His father — the boy’s grandfather — witnessed the fight of the century, says Jean. “He was always like a legend at home. It was an incredible moment for the city. But this is better, believe me. Look at all these people as they are,” he says. Of course you would have to do a poll. But there are many differences between that October 1974 and now.
Moment Ali knocks down Foreman during fight in Zaire.AP
Ali had just converted to Islam at the time and the Pope preaches Catholicism. Also, the public shouted in ecstasy “Ali Bumayé” (Ali, kill him), in the antipodes of the messages of peace. But the boxers also ended up in Kinshasa due to a misjudgment. Don King, then a young and inexperienced boxing promoter, promised each of them five million dollars for the fight. Trouble is, he couldn’t find anyone in their right mind then to pay for it. Indeed, the only offer came from the heart of Africa and was tabled by Mobutu, eager to whitewash his regime. The Pope, and there are some similarities, knows that elections will be held in the country within a year. And that your visit will try to be profitable. But that they take away from these 65,000 people what was danced today.
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