By Joop Koopman
The bishops of the Democratic Republic of Congo have issued an urgent warning that rising violence and political unrest are threatening the nation with “unravelling and chaos.” The bishops expressed sorrow for “thousands” of people who have lost their lives in recent months, including many minors enlisted by various militias. The bishops also expressed concern that the crisis might trigger a famine and even the breaking up of the nation.
The prelates, meeting in an emergency plenary session late last month (Feb. 20-25, 2017), blame the worsening situation on the failure of President Joseph Kabila and his political opponents to observe the terms of an historic agreement — signed Dec. 31, 2016 and brokered by the bishops’ conference - that paved the way for presidential elections later this year, with President Kabila not pursuing an unconstitutional third term in office.
In a statement obtained by the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the bishops insisted that the Church’s role is strictly that of mediator on behalf of the common good - even as a growing number of violent and deadly attacks on Church property and personnel reflect apparent resentment at the Church’s role in brokering the Accord. Last December, a Franciscan Sister in Bakavu was stabbed to death and a mob of youths burned down the Church of St. Dominic in Limete, in the city of Kinshasa on Feb. 12, 2017. In a message sent to ACN, Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya, the archbishop of Kinshasa, the country’s capital, reported on a Feb. 18, 2017 an “arson attack” on the Malole major seminary, in Kananga, the capital city of the Kassai Central province. The prelate reported that the perpetrators were “violent thugs, who have sown terror among the Carmelite Sisters” in a nearby Carmelite monastery.
(Pictured are sisters of the contemplative Trappist Monastery of Murhesa on their farm. The monastery is located in a violent area of the country. The sisters live with danger. Two years ago, a sister was shot dead when she opened the door to the monastery. Despite the danger the sisters remain praying for peace for the region. They are an oasis of peace in the midst of violence. People also often come to them to join in their retreats © Aid to the Church in Need)
Nonetheless, the bishops said they remain committed to their “prophetic role” in “accompanying the Congolese people” in seeing to it that the terms of the agreement are observed. The bishops stated: “Faced with the trials of the present time and for the sake of more justice and peace, we say “no to the obstruction of the complete and rapid application of the agreement.” They called on the President, the opposition and civil society to begin a “frank dialogue, based on good faith and mutual confidence” and thus to respond to the “cry of distress of the Congolese people who impatiently await the implementation of the agreement.”
They called upon the police and the military to keep peace nation-wide, but without resorting to “excessive force;” the country’s media were urged “to avoid polemics” and to inform the public “objectively and accurately” for the sake of “national unity.”
The bishops called on the faithful to “intensify their prayer for the country, help protect Church property, and to not give in to provocations, discouragement and fear.” On March 26, 2017, the fourth Sunday of Lent, all of the bishops will say a special Mass to ask for the “maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Hope, that the Lord” may bestow “peace and mercy on the Democratic Republic of Congo and its people.”
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