“Unforgettable days spent with us”: Catholic Bishops in DR Congo Thank Pope Francis

Members of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) with Pope Francis at the Headquarters of CENCO in Kinshasa 03 February 2023. Credit: Vatican Media

The President of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) has, on behalf of the Catholic Bishops in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), thanked Pope Francis for the “unforgettable days” the Holy Father spent with the people of God in the country during his four-day Apostolic visit that concluded Friday, February 3. 

On Friday, February 3, Pope Francis met 57 of the 74 current and retired Catholic Bishops of the DRC at the headquarters of CENCO before leaving for South Sudan for the second leg of his two African nation trip.

In his address to the Holy Father during the meeting, Archbishop Marcel Utembi Tapa expressed “deep gratitude, communion and our unfailing attachment in the Lord” to the Successor of the Apostle Peter.

“Thirty-seven years have passed since your Venerable Predecessor, Saint John Paul II, touched Congolese soil. Thank you for having returned and for the unforgettable days you spent with us,” Archbishop Utembi said.

The President of the Catholic Bishops in DRC added, “Your words trace the path that our Church must follow from now on for the years to come.”


“Your visit to our country has many meanings for our whole local Church,” he said, and added, “In particular, we understand it as a moment of strengthening our faith in the perspective of anchoring it to the different realities of life; and also as a blessing for our country.”

CENCO President acknowledged the intercession of two Congolese martyrs, saying, “The Church-family of God in DR Congo is constantly nourished by the spirituality of Blessed Marie Clémentine Anuarite Nengapeta and Blessed Isidore Bakanja.”

“Let us take this opportunity to present to Your Holiness a petition for the canonization of these two Blessed Martyrs,” The Local Ordinary of DRC’s Kisangani Archdiocese said, and went on to express his gratitude to the Holy See “for all the gestures and acts of closeness towards our Church.”

Speaking on behalf of CENCO members February 3, Archbishop Utembi continued, “We reiterate our thanks to Your Holiness for having ratified the Framework Agreement between the Holy See and the Democratic Republic of Congo on matters of common interest, and we assure you of its implementation.”

The Congolese Archbishop who started his Episcopal Ministry in January 2002 as Bishop of DRC’s Mahagi-Nioka Diocese further said, “Since the last visit of Pope John Paul II, our country has experienced moments of pain and tribulation. The crises we have experienced have been strong and multi-faceted, affecting all levels of our existence: political, economic, security and humanitarian.”

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“These crises have been compounded by epidemics, natural disasters, notably floods, earthquakes and the eruption of the Nyirangongo mountain, which have taken away our smiles and our hope of living happily on our own land,” he said, and added, “Violence continues to rock our country and seems to never stop.”

Despite these challenges, Archbishop Utembe said, “These pains are lived in Christian hope.”

“You have always stood by the bedside of our country with your prayers and generosity, like the Good Samaritan to the wounded and abandoned man by the roadside,” he further said.

He continued, “Thanks to your prayers and to the universal solidarity of the Holy See and of people of good will, the Church here is always in service, in collaboration with the Congolese State, for the spiritual, moral, social, cultural and material development of the Congolese people.” 

“Our joy is to see that despite the many challenges they face, the majority of our faithful keep their faith in Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Utembi said, and added, “We have the absolute certainty that God never abandons his people; he loves the DR Congo and its population in all its ethnic and cultural diversity.”


It is in the faith in Jesus Christ, the CENCO President said, “and in this hope that we want to root the Church-Family of God in DR Congo.” 

“In communion with Your Holiness, we have consecrated, with joy and hope, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, our country, the DR Congo, the Church and the whole of humanity, and in particular Russia and Ukraine,” Archbishop Utembi said.

He implored, “May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of the Congo, watch over you throughout your apostolic journey.”

In his address to the Congolese Catholic Bishops, Pope Francis said that during his January 31-February 3 stay in the country, he had experienced the Church in the DRC as “a young, dynamic and joyful Church, motivated by missionary zeal, by the good news that God loves us and that Jesus is Lord.”

“Yours is a Church present in the lived history of this people, deeply rooted in its daily life, and in the forefront of charity,” Pope Francis told CENCO members. 

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He added, “It is a community capable of attracting others, filled with infectious enthusiasm and therefore, like your forests, with plenty of ‘oxygen.’ Thank you, because you are a lung that helps the universal Church breathe!”

According to the Vatican, there are more than 52 million Catholics in the DRC, almost half of the country’s total population of over 105 million people. The country, which covers 905,600 square miles, is divided into 48 Catholic dioceses.

After praising the beautiful features of the Church in the DRC, Pope Francis said he was sorry to have to speak of another side to the Catholic Bishops’ country.

“Sadly, I know that the Christian community of this land also has another face,” he said. 

He continued, “It is the face of a Church that suffers for its people, a heart in which the life of the people, with its joys and trials, beats anxiously; a Church that is a visible sign of Christ, who even today is rejected, condemned and reviled in the many crucified people of our world; a Church that weeps with their tears, and like Jesus, a Church that also wants to dry those tears.”

He encouraged Catholic Bishops in DRC to be close to the Lord in prayer in order to be prophets for the people of God under their pastoral care.

The Holy Father urged the Catholic Bishops to console their people, and above all, to be “shepherds and servants of the people, not entrepreneurs, not moneymakers.”

Jude Atemanke is a Cameroonian journalist with a passion for Catholic Church communication. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Buea in Cameroon. Currently, Jude serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.