DRC and Catholic Church sign agreements as Cardinal Parolin visits
By Salvatore Cernuzio – Kinshasa, DRC
The Catholic Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo will remember 2 July as “an historic day”.
As part of Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin’s visit to Kinshasa in Pope Francis’ name, the Congolese Catholic Bishops’ Conference (CENCO) signed five agreements with the DRC government recognizing the official status of the Church, which had previously been registered as a non-profit organization.
The ceremony took place on Saturday in the presence of Cardinal Parolin, immediately after a private meeting of more than half an hour with Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde.
2016 Framework Agreement between Holy See and DRC
The agreements were signed by the ministers of Foreign Affairs, Health, Justice, Finance, Higher Education and Universities, and Local Affairs, and by CENCO president, Archbishop Marcel Utembi Tapa, putting into practice the Framework Agreement signed by the Holy See and the Democratic Republic of Congo on 20 May 2016 on matters of common interest.
The Framework was signed at the Vatican by Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States, and the then Congolese foreign minister, Raymond Tshibanda N'Tungamulongo.
Setting out the respective independence and autonomy of Church and State, the Framework Agreement established the legal framework for mutual relations and, in particular, enshrined the legal position of the Catholic Church in the civil sphere and its freedom regarding apostolic activity and regulation of matters within its competence.
Prime Minister's decree
Ratified in 2019 and entered into force in 2020, the Framework Agreement has never been fully implemented. A decree last June by Prime Minister Sama Lukonde called for its implementation and thus recognition of the Church as a legal entity.
Following months of negotiations and considerable engagement by CENCO, the Apostolic Nunciature, and the relevant government ministries, a Joint Commission then drew up five specific agreements governing the areas of religious instruction in schools, Catholic educational institutions, the Church's charitable-assistance activity, pastoral care in penitentiary and hospital institutions, and the Church’s patrimonial and fiscal regime.
Cardinal Parolin: ‘Beginning of more intense collaboration’
The signing of the five agreements took place at a well-attended ceremony at the Prime Minister’s office, which was punctuated by applause and the exchange of gifts.
"This stage is the manifestation of the President's desire to express the honor of your visit," the Prime Minister told Cardinal Parolin.
The Vatican Secretary of State stressed that "the Agreement consolidates the partnership which has united the Catholic Church and the political authorities of this country for centuries, at the service of the entire population."
"The interest of the Church, in these relations with the civil authorities, is focused on working together for the integral human development of all people, without ethnic or religious distinctions, and especially the poorest and most needy," the Cardinal said.
He also expressed his hopes that the Framework Agreement would not only represent "the end of a long process, but rather the cornerstone of a new, more intense, and orderly collaboration” which will lead to “the peaceful and fruitful collaboration of the Church with the civil authorities and the just recognition of its contribution to the common good.”
Cardinal Ambongo: ‘Everything will get easier for us’
The Archbishop of Kinshasa, Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, echoed Cardinal Parolin’s words to Vatican News on the sidelines of the event.
He said this "historic day for the Congolese Church" has been awaited "for over six years."
"As of today, everything will become easier for us in the field of education, health, and social work, as well as in everything we do for the poor and all the work we have been doing for years.”
Cardinal Ambongo recalled that the Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo expends great effort for the country’s people, running around 50 percent of schools and about 40 percent of health facilities, despite having been registered with the State as an NGO.
"The agreements will therefore give us new impetus," said the Cardinal. “Before we worked and no one—including diocesan bishops—knew what the Church’s rights and duties were with respect to the government; now things will be clearer. We will know that all the work we do is done within legislation recognized by the State.”