Church Continues the Struggle To Save Democracy in Congo

The Catholic Church, through its pastoral work and the promotion of justice, can help bring stability and peace to the violence-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, said a cardinal who once helped guide the country from dictatorship to democracy. In Montreal on June 10 to meet with the Congolese community and consecrate a new parish church, Our Lady of Africa, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, Congo, expressed disappointment that the country has not achieved the peace envisioned in the 1990s as a new constitution was written and democratic elections were instituted.

In 1991, when he was archbishop of Kinsangani, the cardinal was appointed to lead the Sovereign National Conference, which helped lead the transition to democracy. He went on to become president of the High Council of the Republic and was nominated as speaker of the transitional parliament in 1994. Two decades later, the cardinal lamented that the chance for long-term peace was squandered.

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“We did a marvelous job,” the cardinal, 73, recalled of the period in which dialogue and social inclusion led to a new constitution and the country’s first democratic elections. “But what we put together was never applied.”

Conflict continues in Congo today as warlords vie for control of eastern regions where precious metals and minerals used in the manufacture of high-tech electronic components are mined. The violence has claimed millions of lives and uprooted untold numbers of civilians since 1998. There is a general state of impunity for the warlords and human rights violators, as well as a government re-elected in 2011 in elections that Cardinal Monsengwo himself at the time said responded to “neither truth nor justice.”

Cardinal Monsengwo blamed the violence on the neighboring countries of Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, “with the complicity of multinational corporations and the great powers.”

“What a mess,” he sighed. The opportunity that the country once had to create a stable and prosperous democracy will not come back, the cardinal said. The church has been increasingly marginalized by Congolese authorities, he said. “Our values are those of promoting the common good, life and solidarity, as well as transparency in state affairs. These are not the values of this government.”

The cardinal said that despite the church’s past direct involvement in government affairs, it is time to take a back seat. “The time has come for the country’s religious to return to their pastoral role, and leave running the country to laypeople,” he said. The Congolese bishops’ conference recently banned priests and men and women religious from participating in the nation’s Electoral Council, whose membership is up for renewal. A former president was the Rev. Apollinaire Malu-Malu, who was largely credited with organizing the successful general elections in 2006.

Despite his disappointment over the evolution of democracy in Congo, Cardinal Monsengwo said he still believes in Africa. The continent would have disappeared four centuries ago, swallowed by “colonialism, slavery and neo-colonialism,” without Africa’s strong sense of endurance and values of life, he said. The African church must continue its mission of announcing the Gospel and promoting the four pillars of love, justice, peace and development.

“When a society espouses these values, it can resist anything,” he said.

“We must lift up our heads once again if we believe that Christ is risen. The Congo is not condemned to death, but to life, and we must promote those values of life in order to get the country back on track.”

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