Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Aug 9, 2021 / 03:00 am (CNA).
Catholic bishops in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have condemned recent attacks on the Church and its leaders.
In an Aug. 2 statement, members of the standing committee of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (known by its French acronym CENCO) said that the targeted attacks violated the principle of freedom of worship.
They highlighted cases of desecration in the south-central Diocese of Mbujimayi, the storming of Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo’s residence in the capital, Kinshasa, and the uttering of derogatory remarks against the cardinal by an official.
“CENCO strongly condemns these inadmissible acts of violence which are a serious attack on freedom of religion and expression, but also a violation of democracy,” they said.
The attacks targeting Church leaders and facilities were “a big step backward on the road to the rule of law to which the Congolese people aspire,” they added in the statement reported by ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner.
Members of CENCO’s standing committee said they had received a letter from Bishop Emmanuel-Bernard Kasanda of Mbujimayi, saying that “since April 2021, abominable acts of desecration in places of worship: parishes, Marian caves, altars, sanctuaries … acts going so far as to desecrate our tabernacles where the Blessed Sacrament rests.”
The bishops were also “dismayed” by derogatory remarks made on July 31 by Augustin Kabuya, the secretary general of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), the country’s ruling party, who accused Ambongo and Fr. Donatien Nshole, CENCO’s secretary general, of politicizing the Church.
The bishops said that they were also disturbed by the attack on the cardinal’s residence, which came a day after the UDPS official’s comments.
A group of young Congolese reportedly stormed the Lindonge center in Limete, a municipality in Kinshasa, before entering Ambongo’s residence, chanting songs against the cardinal and throwing stones at his residence.
Following the Aug. 1 incident, Fr. Georges Njila, chancellor of the Kinshasa archdiocese, said: “We strongly condemn this irresponsible attitude as well as its consequences.”
Commentators believe that the incidents relate to a dispute over the reorganization of the Independent National Electoral Commission ahead of presidential elections in 2023. The Catholic Church has called for the “depoliticization” of the body.
CENCO’s standing committee defended Ambongo, who has been accused of delaying the electoral process in the country, saying that he “did not take a position which is not that of the CENCO within the framework of his prophetic mission.”
The Catholic bishops also questioned why the Church was being attacked when the bishops preached national cohesion, asking: “Why attack her when she defends the independence of the Independent Electoral Commission?”
The Church’s leadership, they said, “is only accomplishing its prophetic mission in the search for the well-being of the Congolese people.”
“While condemning these despicable acts, we ask our faithful Christians and defenders of democracy not to react violently,” they urged. “Violence is the weapon of those who lack the arguments in a democratic and citizen debate.”
They added that violence “kills democracy and replaces it with dictatorship.”
They called on the perpetrators to stop their violent actions and asked the government to take urgent action against those found guilty of violence.
They promised to continue supporting the Congolese people in “consolidating democracy and improving their living conditions.”
“For the love of the Congolese people, CENCO will not be silent,” the statement said.
A version of this story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner, written by Magdalene Kahiu. It has been adapted by CNA.
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