Many people had gathered by dawn in the hope of getting a better view of the pope

Kinshasa (AFP) - One hope united the million people who streamed to see Pope Francis perform mass in DR Congo’s capital Wednesday – that his presence could bring peace to the conflict-torn east of the African country.

“The war will stop… thanks to the pope’s prayer,” said Eulalie Nzinga, 63, who woke at 4:00 am to grab a spot on the tarmac at a Kinshasa airport, where Francis gave an open-air mass several hours later.

“I’m sick, but I know that as the pope is here, everything will be ok,” said Nzinga, who brought her 13-year-old granddaughter along to the Ndolo airport in the east of the city.

The hope for peace was echoed by many worshippers in a country where conflict has raged in the mineral-rich east for nearly 30 years.

Over one million people flocked to the mass, according to the organisers.

Many waved banners and danced, and expressed their joy at catching a glimpse of the Argentine pontiff.

Many of the people flocking to see the papal mass were hoping for peace in the conflict-wracked east of DR Congo.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen a pope in the flesh,” said 17-year-old Princylia Kitambala, who added that she would tell her descendants about the event one day.

Christo Mimpu, a 25-year-old engineer, said that it had been important to “come to pray with the pope to ask for peace in the east of our country”.

Adeline Babwiriza, 53, from the eastern city of Goma, had come to Kinshasa to pray for her family, as well as the return of peace to her native region.

“Darkness will not reign forever,” she said.

- ‘Blessing and peace’ -

The pope has taken to a wheelchair because of problems with his knee

The DRC is a deeply impoverished central African state, which has secularism enshrined in its constitution. But the former Belgian colony is Africa’s largest Catholic nation.

According to estimates, about 40 percent of the population of some 100 million is Catholic. Thirty-five percent of Congolese are Protestants of various denominations, nine percent Muslims and 10 percent Kimbanguists – a Christian movement born in the Belgian Congo.

Official Vatican statistics put the proportion of Catholics in the DRC at 49 percent of the population.

Greeting: A young man waves a flag to welcome the pope

Thousands of people already began to stream into Kinshasa’s Ndolo airport on Tuesday night ahead of the mass.

The following dawn, people began to pour into site in the megacity of 15 million people, under bright sunshine that was initially tolerable, before becoming unbearably hot.

Many stood sponging their faces or fanning themselves with programmes that were handed out for the mass. First-aid workers and ambulances were also circulating: One man in his sixties was unwell and had to be evacuated.

From a huge air-conditioned platform, Francis gave a homily to the assembled crowed in Italian, which was translated from the rostrum into the DRC’s official language French.

The pope preached peace and invited the faithful to “not give in to divisions”.

Many people spent the night at the venue to make sure they got a spot for the papal mass.

Archbishop of Kinshasa Fridolin Ambongo spoke afterwards and called for “free, transparent, inclusive and peaceful” elections, to applause from the crowd.

The DRC is due to hold presidential elections on December 20, and the Catholic church still holds significant clout in the country of some 100 million people.

Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi attended the mass, as well as opposition leaders.