Rome Newsroom, Feb 3, 2023 / 03:20 am (CNA).
The enthusiasm, joy, and missionary zeal of Congolese Catholics give oxygen to the whole Church, Pope Francis said during his final meeting in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Friday.
“As a Church we need to breathe the pure air of the Gospel, to dispel the tainted air of worldliness, to safeguard the young heart of faith. That is how I imagine the African Church and that is how I see this Congolese Church,” he said during an encounter with the country’s bishops.
Pope Francis met 57 of the 74 current and retired bishops of the DRC at the headquarters of the national bishops’ conference of Congo (CENCO) before heading to the country’s N’djili International Airport for a more than three-hour flight to South Sudan, which he will visit Feb. 3-5.
The pope said during his Jan. 31-Feb. 3 visit he saw the Church in the DRC as “a young, dynamic and joyful Church, motivated by missionary zeal, by the good news that God loves us and that Jesus is Lord.”
“Yours is a Church present in the lived history of this people, deeply rooted in its daily life, and in the forefront of charity,” he told the bishops. “It is a community capable of attracting others, filled with infectious enthusiasm and therefore, like your forests, with plenty of ‘oxygen.’ Thank you, because you are a lung that helps the universal Church breathe!”
According to the Vatican, there are more than 52 million Catholics in the DRC, almost half of the country’s total population of over 105 million people. The country, which covers 905,600 square miles, is divided into 48 Catholic dioceses.
After praising the beautiful features of the Church in the DRC, Pope Francis said he was sorry to have to speak of another side to the bishops’ country.
“Sadly, I know that the Christian community of this land also has another face,” he said. “It is the face of a Church that suffers for its people, a heart in which the life of the people, with its joys and trials, beats anxiously. A Church that is a visible sign of Christ, who even today is rejected, condemned and reviled in the many crucified people of our world; a Church that weeps with their tears, and like Jesus, a Church that also wants to dry those tears.”
He encouraged the bishops to be close to the Lord in prayer in order to be prophets for their people.
Being a bishop, he said, is not about self-sufficiency or exercising a worldly power.
“Above all else, may we never open the door to the spirit of worldliness, for this makes us interpret ministry according to the criteria of our own advantage,” Francis said. “It makes us become cold and detached in administering what is entrusted to us. It leads us to use our role to serve ourselves instead of serving others, and to neglect the one relationship that matters, that of humble and daily prayer.”
“Don’t forget that worldliness is the worst thing that can happen to the Church, the worst thing,” he added.
Bishops, Pope Francis said, “are called, then, to pluck up the poisonous plants of hatred and selfishness, anger, resentment and violence; to break down the altars erected to money and corruption; to build a coexistence based on justice, truth and peace; and finally, to plant the seeds of rebirth, so that tomorrow’s Congo will truly be what the Lord dreams of: a blessed and happy land, no longer exploited, oppressed and drenched in blood.”
The pope urged the Catholic bishops to console their people, and above all, to be “shepherds and servants of the people, not entrepreneurs, not moneymakers.”
“Be witnesses of mercy and reconciliation amid the violence unleashed not only by the exploitation of resources and by ethnic and tribal conflicts, but also and above all by the dark power of the evil one, the enemy of God and humanity,” he said.
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