Congolese military personnel walk past an armoury site used by M23 rebels Congolese military personnel walk past an armoury site used by M23 rebels 

Cardinal Ambongo: 'How long will this killing in DRC continue?'

Congolese Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo speaks to Vatican News about the ongoing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the failure of the international community to prevent it, and Pope Francis’ upcoming visit.

By Joseph Tulloch and Olivier Bonnel

In recent days, there have been further outbreaks of violence in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, Archbishop of Kinshasa, was in Rome recently for a meeting of the Council of Cardinals, and spoke to Vatican News’ Olivier Bonnel about the situation.

Also on the agenda were the international community’s failure to help, the Congolese bishops' efforts in favour of national unity, and Pope Francis’ upcoming visit.

A history of violence

The Cardinal pointed out that the recent attacks are only the latest episode in a long history of conflict in the east of the country.

The violence there, which is due to “bloodthirsty” armed groups, he said, “has lasted for almost three decades”.

He added that, according to information he had received, the governments of Rwanda and Uganda are supporting the rebel groups.

The Cardinal also discussed the deteriorating situation in the west of the country, which, he said, is a question of “the absence of the state.”

“Where the state is absent, there are other forces that take power. At the moment, gangs of thugs are taking advantage of this disorder to sow death and desolation in this area.”

“The bishops of Congo,” he said, “are asking the question: how long will this killing continue?”

The failure of the international community

“From my perspective,” Cardinal Ambongo said, “as a pastor from Congo living alongside my people, I have made the sad observation that the international community is complicit in what has happened in the east, for the simple reason that everyone knows what is happening, but they pretend not to see.”

He criticised, moreover, MONUSCO, the United Nations’ peacekeeping force in the country, saying that it was “powerless” in the face of the M23 rebel group.

“MONUSCO has admitted that it is powerless against M23, that M23 has more sophisticated weapons,“ he said. “Work that one out for yourself! All the United Nations put together, and they are powerless against a small group of armed men. It is incomprehensible.”

Congolese bishops against division

The Cardinal spoke emphatically about the danger of “Balkanisation”, or the division of the country into smaller states.

“I believe that the Congolese nation is in danger,” he said. “With the resurgence of conflicts in the east, especially with the M23, we [the Congolese bishops] now have the clear conviction that there are external forces that really want to break our country up into small states.”

He noted that, in response to this danger, the Congolese bishops recently released a letter appealing for national unity, one which had received an encouraging response.

“I am particularly happy to note that last Sunday, in all the dioceses of the country, in all the big cities, there were demonstrations not only by Catholics, but also by Protestants, and all men and women of good will, who responded to the call of the bishops.”

“We hope that this march will bear fruit and bring people to their senses.”

Pope Francis’ upcoming visit

Lastly, Cardinal Ambongo discussed Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the nation, which has been scheduled for 31 January to 3 February 2023.

“The arrival of the Pope, which was announced last Friday, was welcomed by the Congolese people as good news in the midst of the thousands of pieces of bad news that have been coming their way,” he said.

He noted that the primary role of the Pope’s visit will be pastoral.

“Firstly, the Pope comes as a pastor. He comes to comfort a suffering people. That is the first purpose and that is above all what the people want in the midst of these sufferings, in the midst of these tribulations.”

“Here is at least someone who comes to meet them, not to threaten them, not to hunt them down as they do in the east, but who comes to comfort them, who comes to reaffirm their value, their human dignity. That is very important for us.”

He added that he hoped that the visit might also serve as “a springboard for national reconciliation.”

“We also hope that through this visit, by means of the Pope’s strong words, those responsible might come to their senses, instead of continuing to wage war.”

During his visit, moreover, the Pope will meet with a group of young people. This will be particularly significant, the Cardinal said, because in all the conflicts “it is young people who are manipulated, it is young people who are given weapons to go and kill others.”

Cardinal Ambongo expressed his desire that the young people of DR Congo might “hear the words of the Pope, of their pastor,” and reflect on “the future, the future of the Congo, their own future as human beings.”

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09 December 2022, 14:28