DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
Catholic Church targeted for trying to restore peace
Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, has told the pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need that he thought the Church was being targeted “in order to sabotage her mission of peace and reconciliation.” Dozens of reports around the country tell of the destruction of churches, gang violence against church members, and even murders of religious and clergy.
Political unrest developed in Congo in 2015 after a bill was proposed which would potentially delay the presidential and parliamentary elections, which was viewed by the opposition as a power grab by the president. Relations between the government and the opposition deteriorated further when a Kasai chief was killed last August, after calling on the central government to quit meddling in the territory and insisting it be controlled by local leaders.
Forty percent of the DRC population is Catholic, and the country’s bishops have repeatedly appealed for both sides to embrace peaceful dialogue in order to facilitate the transition of power from President Joseph Kabila to his successor. Catholic bishops had helped to negotiate an agreement, which hoped to prevent a renewed civil war by securing an election this year for the successor of President Kabila. However, in January the bishops said the agreement was expected to fail unless both parties were willing to compromise. In March, the bishops withdrew from mediation talks.
Attacks on Church property and clergy reflect the violence that is widespread throughout the country. 3,383 people have been killed since October alone in the central-southern province of Kasai. The death toll includes civilians caught in the crossfire of a brutal fight between the Congolese army and an opposing militia group. 14 villages have been destroyed thus far – 10 villages by the central government’s army in an attempt to root out the opposition and 4 by the Kamuina Nsapu militia while trying to drive out the government. U.N. investigators have found 42 mass graves.
With a history of bloody ethnic rivalries and clashes over resources, fears have developed that the violence in Kasai, a hub for political tension, will spread to the rest of the nation and even lead to the involvement of neighboring countries. Over 1.3 million people have fled from the fighting.
The U.N. Human Right’s Council in Geneva is expected to determine the need for an investigation into the country’s excessive violence. The DRC government has previously opposed such an investigation.