Lay Catholics plan more protests in Congo

Protestors attempt to leave the safe heaven of a church during violent protests late January in Kinshasa, Congo. Catholics in Congo are planning more large-scale, peaceful demonstrations across the country to protest President Joseph Kabila's refusal to leave power. (CNS photo/Robert Carrubba, EPA) 

Catholics in Congo are planning more large-scale, peaceful demonstrations across the country to protest President Joseph Kabila's refusal to leave power.

"Let's stay together, ready to face the worst, to snatch the best," the church's lay coordination committee said in a May 1 statement after a two-day meeting in the capital, Kinshasa.

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Noting the "uncertainty of the electoral calendar," the committee said it fears another postponement of elections or "a mockery" of a poll that has no "guarantee of transparency and credibility" and is "without political restraint measures."

The Catholic Church makes up around half the 67.5 million inhabitants of Congo, and the bishops have pressed Kabila to step down since his second and final term expired in December 2016.

Later, a church-brokered accord allowed the president to stay in office, alongside an opposition head of government, pending elections by the end of 2017. However, in November, Congo's Electoral Commission said the ballot would be postponed until Dec. 23, 2018.

At least five people died and 120 people were detained when security forces attacked Catholic protesters Dec. 31 in Kinshasa. Since then, 16 people have been killed in three protest marches.

Public rallies have been banned since September 2016, when dozens of demonstrators were killed.

Opposition leaders are still in jail or exile and other conditions of a brokered agreement have not yet been met, the church committee's statement said.

Concerns over electoral irregularities include mismanagement of funds for the upcoming poll, it said.

Public rallies have been banned since September 2016, when dozens of demonstrators were killed.

A priest in Kitchanga was shot dead shortly after celebrating Mass April 8 in the latest attack on the Catholic Church in Congo. Churches, convents and Catholic schools have been vandalized or looted by armed groups.

Father Etienne Nsengiunva was murdered three days after Father Celestin Ngango of St. Paul Karambi Parish, abducted on Easter, was found, unharmed, by villagers.

Father Ngango was the sixth priest abducted in the eastern Congo since 2012 and one of the few abductees in the region to be released. Civilians in eastern Congo have been brutalized by militias, rebels and military units. Thousands of women have been raped by the armed groups.

An estimated 100 militias -- local and those armed by foreign powers -- are believed to operate in the region, which experienced violence and instability for nearly two decades.

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