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Six Issues of Concern in DR Congo Bishops Want Addressed While Safeguarding “Sovereignty”

Members of the Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO).

Catholic Bishops in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have, in a collective statement at the end of their 57th Plenary Assembly, outlined six issues affecting the Central African nation, which they want addressed while safeguarding of the Congolese from those who have taken it “hostage.”

In the 5-page statement shared with ACI Africa, the members of the Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) highlight COVID-19 challenges pandemic on the population, jostling for power and positions among members of the ruling party, non-respect for state institutions, economic hardship, insecurity, and human rights abuses as issues they want addressed.

Regarding the coronavirus, CENCO members express their concerns about the government’s inability to support citizens in the Central African nation faced with numerous challenges occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At a time when Congolese men and women are languishing in misery and poverty, aggravated by the COVID-19 restrictions, the government has been reluctant in its response to help reduce these effects on the population and health workers,” the Bishops say.

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Things could have been worse, the Bishops reckon and thank God for “sparing our country from the feared disaster of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

They also express appreciate the people of God in DRC “for their prayers and support through the works of the Church toward the people in distress at the height of this health crisis.”

“The outpouring of solidarity is sufficient proof that the Congolese people are capable of helping and caring for one another in difficult situations,” the Bishops say in their October 17 collective statement issued at the end of their meeting held in the Archdiocese of Kinshasa.

They add, “Let us not lower our vigilance and let us continue to scrupulously respect the preventive measures put in place to prevent the spread of the pandemic.”

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The members of the CENCO also express their concerns about the continuous “quest for power and positions among members of the ruling coalition.” 

“Despite our various appeals to the allies of the ruling coalition to stop their infighting and to devote themselves instead to working for the interest of the people, we are deeply saddened by the revolting indifference of the political actors while the country is on the verge of bankruptcy,” the Bishops say.

They are concerned that “the allies in power are devoting their energies to calculations of positioning in relation to the elections of 2023 with a view to retaining or regaining power.”

“The obsession for power and position by the ruling coalition leads to the confiscation of the sovereignty of the Congolese people,” the members of CENCO lament. 

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They urge the people of God in Congo “not to allow our sovereignty be stolen” and add, “Our situation will change from the day those in power understand that in order to remain in or gain access to power, they must serve our interests.”

“We exhort political actors to place themselves sincerely at the service of the common good. As servants of the people, let them be concerned about their well-being and be prepared to be accountable to them,” the Catholic Bishops in DRC say.

In their statement signed by CENCO President, Archbishop Marcel Utembi, the Bishops are also concerned about non-respect for state institutions with “many battles for the control of Independent electoral Commission (CENI) and the lack of consensus around electoral reforms.”

“Worse still, our country finds itself in a situation in which the highest judicial authority, the Constitutional Court, is prevented from carrying out its duties,” the Prelates bemoan.

As a way forward, they call on the citizens of the central African nation to “come out of slumber and remain vigilant on the respect of the Constitution, as well as on the respect of the true independence of the CENI and the Magistracy.”

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The members of CENCO also express their concerns about economic hardship saying the country's economy “is in sharp decline, with a drastic reduction in the population's purchasing power, leading to an increase in poverty and unemployment.”

“The mining sector on which the country could rely is, like many others, plagued by corruption and benefits more a few individuals, multinationals and militarized criminal groups than the population,” they explain.

Amid the economic challenges, the Bishops in DRC invite the people of God in their country “to continue to be creative, hard-working and supportive, in order to face the economic consequences experienced on a daily basis.”

Regarding insecurity and violence that has led to the loss of human lives and property in the Provinces of Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu and Tanganyika, CENCO members say, “The recurrent community conflicts also demonstrate the weakness of the Congolese government, which seems to be non-existent in places where militias and armed groups of all kinds proliferate with their procession of misery.”

The Bishops “denounce and vigorously condemn” the death threats against Bishop Dieudonné Uringi of DRC’s Bunia Diocese and his counterpart, Bishop Sébastien Muyengo of Uvira Diocese.

“Conscious of their prophetic mission, they did nothing but exercise their ministry as Pastors concerned for the well-being and peaceful coexistence of the peoples entrusted to their pastoral care,” Bishops in DRC say in their October 17 statement, expressing their solidarity with their brother bishops as CENCO members. 

They call on Congolese citizens to “peacefully resist the balkanization of our country, depopulation and occupation of the land through national cohesion and the refusal of treason, favoring the surge of patriotism alongside our Armed Forces.”

The Bishops also express their concerns about gross human right abuses in the Central African nation saying, “The impetus for freedom of expression and public demonstration, enthusiastically welcomed by our population, is on a standstill.”

They claim that “certain political parties are taking the place of state services and undermining not only public order but also human dignity and respect for human rights.”

As a way forward, the Bishops “demand that our Government make a formal request for the establishment of a Special Criminal Court for the DR Congo to prosecute those allegedly responsible, both internal and external, for the thousands of deaths and victims of the massive human rights violations.”

“DR Congo is our land, our ‘blessed gift,’ our inalienable heritage, and we must not allow it to be taken away,” they add.

The members of CENCO further urge the Congolese “to stand firm and remain faithful to the ideals traced by our fathers of independence.”

In standing firm, the Bishops say, it will be possible “to bequeath to future generations no longer a Congo of tears and weeping, divisions and wars, but a prosperous country, a Congo of peace, reconciliation and fraternity. It is everyone's responsibility.”

The Bishops encourage the people of God in DRC to “remain firm in God and trust in Him the Almighty and remain vigilant in prayer.”

“We cannot hope to realize our dream without the Lord,” CENCO say at the end of their October 17 collective statement shared with ACI Africa.