The Holy Father made the appeal after security forces fired on protesters in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Pope Francis has appealed for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo following the killing of protesters demonstrating against President Joseph Kabila in several cities across the country.

After meeting recently with the heads of the Congolese bishops’ conference, the Pope renewed his call during his weekly general audience, urging the people of Congo to “be authors of reconciliation and peace”.

“May those who have political responsibility listen to the voice of their own conscience, may they be able to see the cruel suffering of their compatriots and have at heart the common good,” the Pope said.

Government security forces shot and killed 26 protesters during scattered demonstrations throughout the country against President Kabila, who has exceeded his presidential mandate, according to the Reuters news agency.

The news agency also reported that the government failed to schedule elections, citing logistical and financial issues, raising fears that the country would once again be thrown into chaos.

President Kabila and government authorities have rejected calls by local opposition leaders and the international community to respect the constitution and step down.

Pope Francis expressed his “support and affection for the beloved people of that country” and prayed that government leaders would work for the good of their people.

“I invite everyone to let themselves be guided by the light of the Redeemer of the world and I pray so that the Nativity of the Lord open paths of hope,” the pope said.

At the general audience, the Pope also urged Christians to take a moment to reflect on the hope of salvation given by God to the world.

Those who are humble and poor like the shepherds come to realise the promise of hope that comes from trusting God and not from “their own securities, especially material goods”, the Pope said.

“Remember this: our own securities will not save us. The only security that saves us is the hope in God which saves us, which is strong. It makes us walk through life with joy, with a desire to do good, with a desire to become happy for all eternity.”

Upon entering the Paul VI audience hall, the Pope greeted people and received gifts and letters from well-wishers.

Approaching a crying child, the Pope wiped her tears and did his best to calm her. After succeeding in consoling her, he then pointed to his cheek, which the toddler leaned towards and kissed.

Continuing his series of talks on Christian hope, the Pope reflected on the birth of Jesus as the “source of hope” for the world.

God, he said, “does not abandon his people, he is near to them to the point of stripping himself of his divinity”.

“[God] entered into the world and gives us the strength to walk with him. God walks with us through Jesus and walking with him toward the fullness of life gives us the strength to be in the present in a new way,” the Pope said.

Hope, the Pope continued, is never stagnant and the simplicity of the Nativity creche found in Christian households “transmits hope. Each character is immersed in this atmosphere of hope.”

He explained that each image found in the Nativity scene represents an aspect of this hope, such as the city of Bethlehem which, despite it not being a capital city, was the place chosen by divine providence, which “loves to act through the small and the humble”.

The figures of Joseph and Mary, who both believed in the words of the angel, can be seen gazing at the child they were told by God to name Jesus, the pope said.

“In that name there is hope for every man and woman because through that son of a woman, God will save humanity from sin and death,” he said.

The image of the shepherds, he continued, represents the humble and the poor who witness the long-awaited promise of hope and salvation while the angels singing at the birth of Christ represent the “praise and thanksgiving to God” expressed in Christian life.

“In these days, by contemplating the creche, we prepare ourselves for the Nativity of the Lord. It will truly be a feast if we receive Jesus, the seed of hope that God sows within the furrows of our personal history,” Pope Francis said.