YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Catholic bishops in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have issued a statement urging the faithful to pray for peace in the country, especially in the eastern regions where violence and displacement have reached alarming levels.

The statement, dated Feb. 20, was signed by Archbishop Marcel Utembi Tapa of Kisangani Archdiocese, who is also the President of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO).

The bishops said the security situation in the eastern part of the country was “deteriorating.”

Violence in Eastern DRC has created a severe humanitarian crisis with more than 5.5 million people displaced from their homes, with the United Nations reporting that it is the third displacement crisis in the world.

A February 14 United Nations report indicates that civilians in Eastern DRC “are bearing the brunt of localized violence, amid a sharp uptick in fighting between Government forces and the M23 armed group.”

More than 120 armed groups are fighting for control of the Eastern DRC, a region rich with natural resources such as gold, coltan, and timber.

The violence has escalated in recent days with more than two dozen people killed in separate attacks by armed militias over the past few days.

According to civil society organizations, Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels, who have links to the Islamic State group, killed 13 people in Mambasa territory, Ituri province, on Tuesday. On Monday, the ADF killed at least 11 people with machetes and guns in Beni, according to regional administrator, Colonel Charles Ehuta Omeonga.

Besides the ADF, the M23-a rebel group supported by Rwanda has stepped up attacks, putting an ill-equipped Congolese army to route in several areas. Efforts at peace have floundered, with President Paul Kagame adopting a more aggressive attitude.

It’s triggered complaints from the United States, a key ally of Rwanda in the troubled Great Lakes region.

In a Feb. 17 statement, the US Department of State said it “strongly condemns the worsening violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) caused by the actions of the Rwanda-backed, U.S.- and UN-sanctioned M23 armed group, including its recent incursions into the town of Sake.”

The statement called on M23 to “immediately cease hostilities and withdraw from its current positions around Sake and Goma” and condemned “Rwanda’s support for the M23 armed group and calls on Rwanda to immediately withdraw all Rwanda Defense Force personnel from the DRC and remove its surface-to-air missile systems, which threaten the lives of civilians, UN and other regional peacekeepers, humanitarian actors, and commercial flights in eastern DRC.”

Utembi Tapa urged the “whole Church to intensify prayers for peace,” and to show  solidarity with the suffering people of the eastern DRC.

The archbishop encouraged the local ordinaries to offer Mass for peace and to recite a special prayer for peace at the end of each Mass, as the Church does from time to time in certain circumstances.

They also recommended that each bishop find a day when a Mass will be celebrated in his diocese to pray for peace in the country and particularly in the eastern part.

The bishops’ conference also appealed to the Congolese authorities and the international community to take urgent measures to restore peace and security in the eastern DRC, to protect the civilian population, and to promote dialogue and reconciliation among the different parties involved in the conflict. The bishops urged the armed groups to lay down their weapons and to respect human rights and human dignity, and called for forgiveness and conversion for those who support war and violence.

Utembi Tapa proposed a prayer for peace that should be said at the end of every Mass. He said the prayer entrusts to Christ “our Congolese brothers and sisters, troubled for several decades now by the insecurity that has claimed millions of lives, particularly in the east of our country.”

“The prayer recognizes the efforts made by man over the years to resolve the conflict, and admits that “our efforts have been in vain: The conflict persists; our compatriots continue to die,” he said.

The archbishop said it implores God to look at the evils that afflict the Congolese people “with compassion,” and to “help our fellow victims of atrocities to find peace and tranquility.”