, 22 January, 2020 / 12:48 AM
An Archbishop in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has welcomed the ratification of the framework agreement between the Holy See and his country that took place at the Vatican last week saying the initiative represents a new dawn of engagements “between the Catholic Church and the state.”
On Friday, January 17, the Holy See’s Secretary of State, Pietro Cardinal Parolin and the President of DRC, Félix Antoine Tshisekedi “exchanged the instruments of ratification of the Framework Agreement between the Holy See and the Democratic Republic of Congo on matters of mutual interest, signed in the Vatican on 20 May 2016,” the Holy See’s Press Office reported.
In an interview with ACI Africa Tuesday, January 21, the President of the Episcopal Conference of DRC (CENCO), Archbishop Marcel Utembi of Kisangani Archdiocese who was present at the signing ceremony said that last week’s mutual Agreement “marks a new beginning in relations between the Catholic Church and the State.”
The ratified Agreement, the Congolese Archbishop also said, is also important for his compatriots “because of the involvement of the Catholic Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the social life of the population.”
Expressing his “great joy and satisfaction” about the ratified Agreement, the Congolese Prelate said the initiative serves to unite “the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Holy See, with regard to relations and areas of collaboration that should reign between these two States, these two institutions that are signatories to this framework agreement.”
According to the Holy See’s Press Office, “Taking note of the respective independence and autonomy of the Church and the State, the Document establishes the legal framework for mutual relations.”
“In particular, it enshrines the freedom of the Church in apostolic activity and in the regulation of matters falling within her competence,” the Holy See’s statement reads further.
Archbishop Utembi also highlighted the importance of such an agreement to both parties saying, “With this framework agreement, the Congolese State recognizes the importance and the role played by the Catholic Church in the DR Congo in the search for ways and means to promote the spiritual, moral, social, cultural and integral development of the Congolese people.”
“With this agreement, we have a legal framework that will henceforth regulate relations between the Catholic Church and the Congolese State, because a legal framework gives rise to the recognition of reciprocal rights and reciprocal obligations and it is in this spirit that we will work to promote the well-being of the Congolese people and also the common good of the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Archbishop Utembi told ACI Africa.
According the Holy See’s statement, “the agreement also regulates various areas, including Catholic educational institutions, the teaching of religion in schools, the charitable and welfare activities of the Church, pastoral care in the Armed Forces and in penitentiaries and hospitals, the patrimonial and fiscal regime, and the obtaining of entry visas and residence permits for religious personnel. It provides for application agreements between the Episcopal Conference and the State on certain matters of common interest.”
In the domain of education, Archbishop Utembi said the Catholic Church in the DR Congo is very committed to accompanying the State, especially in the educational sector.
“We are proud to say that the 47 dioceses in our country organize and manage more or less 40 percent of public schools at the nursery, primary and secondary levels, not counting private schools which are Church-owned,” the Congolese Prelate disclosed to ACI Africa.
He added, “I must say that the Congolese population is very satisfied with the quality of education we provide for young people and, with this framework agreement that has just been signed, we are going to adopt some measures of implementation within the framework of the specific provisions to be defined very soon with the Congolese Government.”
On the teaching of religion in schools, the Archbishop of Kisangani is of the opinion that, it is through religious education, otherwise known as catechetical lessons, that the Church will be able to commit herself more to forming the conscience of the Congolese people in the sense of values, spiritual values, moral values.”
“If we invest in the teaching of religion at different levels of school education, we can say that we've invested in the right place,” the President of CENCO told ACI Africa.
Given the important role the Church plays in providing health services to the population, Archbishop Utembi expressed the wish to see the State support the Church in this endeavor with the ratification of the framework agreement.
“The Catholic Church in the DR Congo organizes and manages medical training courses, dispensaries, maternity wards, health Centers, hospitals and also reception facilities for very vulnerable people such as the elderly,” the Congolese Prelate recounted.
“In committing ourselves to the accomplishment of these kinds of services to the Congolese people, it is also quite appropriate that the Congolese government accompany the actors of the Catholic Church, to ensure they work with certain ease,” Archbishop Utembi explained.
Speaking about the patrimonial and fiscal regime, Archbishop Utembi said, “Today, the Church needs more spaces to establish institutions at the service of the population. All of this will require that, under the special arrangements, we can come to an agreement with the Congolese government.”
The Prelate also said that the Church and the State will examine all provisions of the agreement and particular areas of collaboration will be clarified in order to enable both parties to better serve the Congolese people.
“The legal framework, in general terms, is there, contained in the framework agreement, but the specific provisions that will serve as implementing measures for this collaboration between the Congolese Government and the Catholic Church in the DR Congo, mandated by the Holy See, will be examined and clarified by both parties in the days ahead,” Archbishop Utembi concluded.
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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa