The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has paid tribute to its counterparts in the Congo as they continue to work to bring peace to the country.
“We have flown into the eye of the storm, with the future of this young democracy in the balance,” Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, said while on a visit to Kinshasa, Congo’s capital.
Elections in the central African country were scheduled for November and President Joseph Kabila was set to step down in December at the end of his second term.
However, Congo’s ruling coalition and part of the opposition agreed to move the ballot to April 2018, with the president staying in power at least until then.
“Even as we met with people in Kinshasa, the situation was shifting constantly,” Bishop Cantu said, noting that “tensions are high and lives are at stake.”
Bishop Cantu and Stephen Hilbert, the bishops’ foreign policy adviser for Africa and global development, met with Government officials, opposition and civil society leaders, among others to press for more dialogue to ease growing tensions in the country.
“We witnessed some parties who were very adamant in their stance,” Bishop Cantu said. “They were unwilling to compromise, even to meet with others from different standpoints.” This was, he believed, a worrying precursor to a possible re-igniting of ethnic violence.
Hilbert said that Congo’s politicians “need to come together, bury the hatchet of past grievances and focus solely on the future.” The Congolese Bishops’ Conference “is respected by all” in the country and “raises its voice about people’s rights and the integrity of the constitution.”
The country “needs an independent voice that calls for fair process” and the Catholic Church fulfils that role, he said.
The latest bout of violence saw 50 people killed last week when security forces dispersed opposition protesters in Kinshasa. The Church is “very concerned that violence will break out again,” Bishop Cantu said.
The Congolese bishops’ conference launched a mediation plan among the main parties and the opposition in August, then pulled out of the national dialogue in late September following a large-scale boycott by opposition parties.
“The talks were no longer inclusive and the Church did not want to be seen as partisan,” Bishop Cantu said.
“Only an inclusive dialogue which respects the constitutional order will provide a framework for resolving our crisis,” Archbishop Marcel Utembi Tapa of Kisangani, president of the Congolese bishops’ conference, said.
Picture: Rioting in Kinshasa left 50 dead.