Catholic leaders say Congo risks being broken apart by violence

A victim of ethnic violence rests inside a ward at the hospital in Bunia, Congo, June 25, 2019. A year after Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi took office pledging democracy and stability, the nation's Catholic leaders are warning that the country faces a breakup in the face of prolonged violence. (CNS photo/Olivia Acland, Reuters)

OXFORD, England (CNS) -- A year after Congo's new president pledged to restore democracy and stability, the country's Catholic leaders said the country faces being broken up by prolonged violence.

Msgr. Andre Massinganda, deputy secretary-general of the Congolese bishops' conference, told Catholic News Service that the church was concerned with "how to bring peace to those areas where war continues, and how to end the killings and massacres so people can live safely again."


Earlier, Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa, conference vice president, visited conflict-torn North Kivu province and warned that the country planned to "Balkanize" the country, as had happened when the Balkans were divided along ethnic lines.

Msgr. Massinganda told CNS Jan. 8 the Catholic Church would continue urging those in power "to apply themselves to the search for peace."

[Don’t miss the latest news from the church and the world. Sign up for our daily newsletter.]

"We've been in a state of war for 20 years now; while there have been moments of relative calm, the country has never been under control," he said. "The Congolese government has its army, and a multilateral force is deployed nationwide. But we're still beset with deep-seated problems."

A statement on the Congolese bishops' website said Cardinal Ambongo had visited eastern Congo Dec. 27-31 at the request of Bishop Melchisedech Sikuli Paluku of Butembo-Beni to "comfort populations bruised by atrocities."

The statement said the cardinal had taken a message of support from Pope Francis to local people and had been shocked by the continued massacre of civilians and "absence of state authority."

[Want to discuss politics with other America readers? Join our Facebook discussion group, moderated by America’s writers and editors.]

Speaking at a Jan. 3 Kinshasa news conference, Cardinal Ambongo said Congolese citizens had hoped killings would cease when Felix Tshisekedi replaced the long-entrenched Joseph Kabila as president in December 2018 elections.

However, he added that the "democratic changeover of power" could not be celebrated while people were still dying in eastern Congo.

"I witnessed close-up the unacceptable misery of a traumatized and morally enfeebled population, of empty villages and abandoned fields," said the cardinal, whose remarks were carried on the bishops' website. "These are calculated, planned acts, whose regularity clearly reveals the objective is the Balkanization of our country."

The Kivu-based Centre of Study for the Promotion of Peace, Democracy and Human Rights (CEPADHO) said in early January that more than 240 civilians had died in the region since Oct. 30, with at least 20 more killed in Beni during Cardinal Ambongo's visit by an Islamist group, Allied Democratic Forces.

The Butembo-Beni Diocese's Justice and Peace Commission said Dec. 19 the combination of increased massacres and "waves of immigration" suggested "a precise program for the occupation of native lands by groups not from the area."

Cardinal Ambongo said people of Rwandan and Ugandan origin were being settled in homes abandoned by the indigenous population, while the Congolese army had been infiltrated by foreign fighters, causing "frustration and anger" among local inhabitants.

He added that action should be taken to protect Congo's eastern frontiers, to prevent further mass arrivals.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.

More: Africa

The latest from america

John Prine, who died on Tuesday, April 7, was one of country-folk music's greatest lyricists.
James T. KeaneApril 08, 2020
You are called to become obedient enough to serve the God who invites you to do seemingly very little. The God who himself apparently does nothing as the disease spreads.
Joe Hoover, S.J.April 08, 2020
Residents stand on a balcony as a South African National Defence Forces vehicle patrol the street, in Johannesburg on April 7. South Africa and more than half of Africa's 54 countries have imposed lockdowns, curfews, travel bans or other restrictions to try to contain the spread of COVID-19. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
The national measures being taken against the spread of the coronavirus in South Africa are unprecedented and are considered among the strictest in the world.
Anthony EganApril 08, 2020
A virus can keep us from gathering. A spirit-wound, it can curtail the sacramental life Christ gave us. But no virus can separate us from Christ.
Terrance KleinApril 08, 2020