Paul Samasumo – Vatican city.
“Always close to the people of God placed under their care, the Congolese Bishops did not remain indifferent to the burning questions affecting the country. They were faithful to their prophetic mission.” This is how renowned DRC journalist, Jean René Bompolonga describes DRC’s Catholics Bishops in the year 2019.
Post election challenges – a country on the verge of chaos
At the start of 2019, the Democratic Republic of Congo was literally on the brink of chaos. Félix Tshisekedi of the UDPS had just been announced the winner of the 30 December 2018 presidential election with 38.6% of the vote, defeating another opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu – the favourite for many. The ruling party’s candidate (PPRD), Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary emerged a distant third.
In Kinshasa, there were suspicions of a deal between former president Joseph Kabila and the declared winner of the contentious election, Felix Tshisekedi.
When the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) published the provisional results, the Catholic Bishops through their Secretary-General at the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo ( CENCO) called a press conference. The press conference addressed by the Secretary-General of CENCO, Father Donatien Nshole, observed that according to its findings and parallel vote tabulation, the results, as published by the CENI, did not correspond with data collected by its electoral observers, spread across the DRC. It was an unprecedented declaration by CENCO and one that provoked an outcry against the Bishops. Supporters of the President-elect, Tshisekedi were enraged. The Bishops stood firm.
Nevertheless, the Bishops steered clear of identifying Fayulu as their considered winner. They said they did not have the legal authority to do so. It was a wise move.
United Nations (UN) refuses to “bless or not bless the results”
According to journalist Bompolonga, on Friday 11 January 2019, a meeting of the UN Security Council on the DRC was convoked. By video conference, the President of CENCO, Archbishop Marcel Utembi Tapa of Kisangani, in a brief on the situation in his country, asked the UN to publish the results of the elections, polling station by polling station. Understandably the UN declined. The UN Secretary General’s spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric told the media, in the United States, that the UN could neither “bless (nor) not bless these results.”
Congolese people wanted to get on with their lives
In the end, it came down to the people themselves. They could have gone to protest in the streets, but clearly, they just wanted to get on with their lives. Before the election, they had already lived through a two-year crisis as they protested and urged former President Joseph Kabila to step down and organise general elections that were long overdue.
Governments of the world and international organisations, for various reasons, though voicing unhappiness with the election also decided to move on. The rest, as they say, is history. The DRC’s Constitutional Court, sitting on electoral disputes, confirmed Félix Tshisekedi as President.
Nevertheless, the absence of the Bishops at the investiture ceremony of Tshisekedi spoke volumes. Father Georges Kalenga, the second Deputy Secretary-General of CENCO, officially represented the Bishops.
Reconciling the country
With time, and in an apparent reconciliatory move, and perhaps as a way of bringing some closure, a delegation from CENCO, led by its President, Archbishop Marcel Utembi Tapa, accompanied by Father Donatien Nshole, met with the new Republican president on 20 March 2019. They discussed matters affecting the nation.
On 27 August 2019, Vatican News carried a report from the DRC about the Congolese Bishops’ Conference welcoming the long-awaited formation of a new coalition government led by Prime Minister Sylvestre Ilunga Illunkamba. In their August statement, the Bishops pledged support to the new administration, especially if it demonstrated itself as a government that intends “to improve the living conditions of (all) the Congolese people.”
The DRC and Pope Francis
It is not lost on observers that Pope Francis has a soft spot for this troubled nation. The Pope has continuously drawn attention to the forgotten horrible and relentless armed attacks by military gangs operating in the DRC’s eastern region of North and South of Kivu. The gangs attack civilians intending to drive them from their lands, -lands known to be rich in mineral resources.
Mass with the Congolese community in Rome
On 1 December 2019, Pope Francis celebrated a Mass for the Congolese community in Rome. The special Eucharist was celebrated in the Basilica of St. Peter according to the Zairean or Congolese Rite officially known as the “Congolese Missal for the Dioceses of Zaire.”
During the Mass the Pope prayed, “Today we pray for peace which is seriously threatened in the East of the country, especially in the territories of Beni and Minembwe, which are ridden by conflicts also fueled from outside, in the complicit silence of many,” the Pope said.
A new Cardinal for the country
On 5 October 2019, Fridolin Ambongo Besungu OFM Cap., the country’s 59-year-old Archbishop of Kinshasa was raised to the rank of Cardinal by Pope Francis.
Not an annus horribilis but challenges abound
For the Catholics and the Bishops of the DRC, 2019 may not exactly have been the proverbial annus horribilis, after all. The chances are that 2020 will not be particularly any easier. Wherever you look challenges abound. However, there are also blessings – but then again, one could say the same for many other African countries or for that matter, most countries in the world, today.