YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – A leading Catholic prelate in the Democratic Republic of Congo has warned the country’s new president that “hopelessness is increasingly capturing the hearts” of the country’s citizens.
Speaking at his cathedral during Easter, Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa told President Felix Tshiskedi, who was among the attendees, that “recent political events did not meet the aspirations of our people.”
The Congo bishops’ conference disputed the results of the Dec. 30 national election after opposition leader Tshisekedi was declared the winner. Runner-up Martin Fayulu claims he got a majority of the vote, and Tshisekedi made a deal with outgoing president Joseph Kabila to steal the vote.
Accepting the official outcome for the good of the country, the bishops asked for newly-elected officials to “break radically” with the old regime and give “concrete assurances” of better governance.
The Kinshasa archbishop used the Easter holiday to hold the new leaders to account.
“The hopes of a people have been broken and sacrificed on the altar of egoistic calculations and interests of some, thereby creating frustration and discouragement,” Ambongo said in his homily.
He said “the conditions of a society built on peace and justice are still lagging,” adding that “the socio-political events of recent days has only maintained a climate of uncertainty.”
However, he ended his homily on a note of hope.
“Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged. Above all, do not place your hope on a creature. Trust God who alone can roll away the stone that closes your future,” the archbishop said.
“God asks us not to fold our arms or give in to hopelessness, because Christ is alive and lives amongst us. He will never abandon us. He is asking us to go from darkness to light in order to create a better society,” the archbishop said.
He called especially on the country’s leadership to abandon their “stone hearts” and become sensitive to the pain of others.
“Do not allow darkness and the forces of evil to lead you and guide your actions to the point of destroying our country. Do not allow hatred, tribalism, corruption and its effects; division and other bad habits to inhabit your hearts,” he warned.
Catholics make up nearly half of Congo’s 80 million people, and the nation’s bishops are held in high esteem. It is the only truly nation-wide institution with the respect of the people and runs around half of the country’s schools and medical facilities.
Nearly 6 million people were killed in a 1997-2003 civil war which drew in armies from several surrounding nations battling over the country’s vast mineral resources. The central government has only tenuous control over the nation’s outlying regions, which are plagued by battling militias.
According to the United Nations, more than 80 percent of Congolese people live on less than $1.25 a day, defined as the threshold for extreme poverty.
In an Easter statement, the Secretary General of the Congo Bishops’ Conference, Father Donatien Nshole Babula said “the joy of the resurrection that we are celebrating today contrasts, unfortunately, in our country, the DRC, with the multi-faceted crises with devastating humanitarian consequences which affect us, and make us think more about death than life.”
He also asked what the resurrection means for millions of Congolese who are still carrying the cross.
“How can we believe that Jesus, who lifted the burdens of millions of suffering people, lives and acts in our country where many of our brothers and sisters still languish in misery?” Nshole said.
The priest added that if the entire Congolese people, who are beneficiaries of the country’s enormous natural resources, accepted “dying with Christ, doing away with negative attitudes and living in the love of Christ,” they would rise and reign with him, and in so doing get the country “out of the graves of war and misery.”