The Catholic Church of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in all its expressions, from the grassroots level to her leadership, is acting with great courage, raising her prophetic voice to defend the democratic demands and the needs of justice of the population. As a result of mediation efforts with the government of President Joseph Kabila, whose mandate expired at the end of 2016, an agreement had been reached to hold democratic elections by 2017. But the agreement was utterly ignored, triggering bad feelings throughout the population. On December 31st peaceful demonstrations organized by a lay committee close to the Church were forcibly crushed causing at least six deaths, while 200 people were left wounded or were arrested. “This government’s mandate ended two years ago – Cardinal Peter Turkson , President of the Dicastery for Promoting integral human development, told SIR, asked to comment on this issue -. The Bishops’ Conference is acting as a mediator, which has allowed the President to add a year to his term. At the end of the year the bishops felt somewhat betrayed because the commitments were not respected. Instead of keeping its word, the Government persecuted the demonstrators.” Card. Turkson, pointing the finger at a “rhetoric of power that hides the truth”, confirmed that the Apostolic Nuncio to Kinshasa, Msgr. Luis Maríano Montemayor, after the events of December 31st, released a message that “encourages the Church”: “We have tried to act as mediators to bring some calm and peace – said Card. Turkson -. Why are the conditions of this mediation not being respected? Maybe because Kabila is not the one who controls the situation if, as they say, it’s a proxy war. Perhaps he is responding to others, who are much closer.” In this regard we have met in Rome with Monsignor Marcel Utembi Tapa , Archbishop of Kisangani and President of the Bishops’ Conference of the D.R. of Congo, who described an “extremely worrying” situation, but without fears of moving forward to ensure that the demands may be met.
A profound political crisis is ongoing in your Country, on which the Church has taken a stand. Why?
Indeed, the socio-political situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has become very worrying.
The national and provincial presidential and legislative elections were due to take place in December 2017 but they failed to be held. This caused tensions within the political leadership and frustration among the population that is not free to elect its leaders. On December 31st a group of lay people, members of the “Lay Coordination Committee” organized a peaceful march in Kinshasa that was violently crushed, causing six deaths; many people were left wounded or were arrested. The tension in the Country is high
the Catholic Church is interceding to ask those in positions of power to honour their commitments and respond to the legitimate aspirations of the people, who are calling for elections to be held.
Catholics are showing great courage in their demands, even at the risk of seeing their claims repressed by force.
It must be said that the Catholic Church is present throughout the national territory in many ways. There are 47 dioceses throughout Congo. The population’s conditions of extreme poverty can no longer be hidden, things need to be called for what they are.
We have repeatedly denounced that the Country is going adrift and that the population is suffering.
The people are seeking individuals or institutions that will respond to their cry for help and the Church, sensitive to the misery of the people, is committed to accompany people in their noble struggle for wellbeing in a peaceful manner, in compliance with the Constitution.
Are you not afraid after the repression of December 31st?
As bishops we are invested with a spiritual power that gives us the grace to accomplish our mission and vocation in full. The prophets, as servants of God, have had the courage to denounce what is wrong and to encourage what is good. In this period we are forced to denounce what is wrong so the situation may change for everyone’s good: for those in power, for the members of the political class, and, above all, for the good of the population at large.
So we are not afraid to go on and count on God, who is the only security for all.
Can you also count on the encouragement of the Pope and the Holy See?
The Pope prays a lot for Countries afflicted by wars, in particular the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.
The Pope’s paternal and pastoral concern touches our hearts. It gives us the strength to move forward.
With his representative, the Apostolic nuncio, we bring forth this struggle together: it is a noble cause for the wellbeing of the population.
Are there no possibilities of dialogue with President Kabila?
As bishops we are open to talk with everyone to invite all those involved to assume their responsibilities in full.
If the opportunity to meet the President of the Republic should arise, we will not fail to do so.
At the moment we are meeting the entourage of ministers and the political leaders of the opposition.
What will your next steps be?
We shall wait and see what happens. We pray. We try to understand the situation day by day, to identify the right moment to take a position.
Will you be releasing further statements ?
The Bishops’ Conference released a message on November 27th and two statements after December 31st. Other declarations could ensue, it depends on the development of the situation in the Country.