Rome, bishops, people: Democratic Republic of Congo tensions rise

The Catholic bishops in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have joined with many Catholics in the DRC and elsewhere in denouncing the government’s ongoing aggravation of the country’s socio-political crisis.

They say the Church’s only concern is to contribute to the welfare of the entire Congolese people.

Pope Francis has also raised his voice about the ongoing tensions, asking the international Catholic community to pray and fast for the DRC.

Many DRC citizens prayed for peace last Friday at a special Mass at the capital Kinshasa, ahead of a march planned for Sunday.

The march was organised by the Catholic Church.

Their prayers were offered in the knowledge that security forces had killed about a dozen protesters in demonstrations in December and January.

Tensions escalated on Saturday as hundreds of ruling party supporters stormed Kinshasa cathedral, after the march was forbidden by the country’s authorities.

“We have come to take possession of Our Lady of the Congo Cathedral to take part in Sunday mass… and defend the homeland,” said Papy Pungu, youth wing leader of the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD).

He said he and other ruling party supporters would be spending the night at the cathedral.

Witnesses said the arrival at the cathedral of the PPRD supporters, many wearing red berets, sowed panic in the capital’s northern Lingwala municipality.

“They arrived aboard several Transco (public transport) buses and stormed the shrine of the Virgin. It’s a provocation,” local parishioner Felicite Mbula told AFP.

“The church is closed, we couldn’t hold mass this evening,” she added.

Antoine Bokoka, a parish official, said the PPRD were “pretending to come to pray Sunday. But you don’t stay overnight in our parishes”.

The capital was already on edge after authorities banned the anti-Kabila protest, with two similar rallies having been brutally put down last month.

The Catholic Church is a focal point for opposition to president Joseph Kabila’s efforts to stay in power without a mandate.

Kabila’s mandate expired in December 2016 but, in an agreement made on 31 December 2016, he was permitted to stay in office beyond the expiry of his mandate.

The agreement required him to step down after an election in 2017, which did not happen.

Congo’s electoral commission said the vote could not be organised until December 2018.

Many DRC citizens believe Kabila intends to cling to power.

Kabila denies this and blames the delays on a slow voter registration process.


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