Cardinal Parolin in DRC: Seek peace for good of country and Congolese
By Salvatore Cernuzio – Kinshasa, DRC
"Unis par la joie de sa présence... United by the joy of His presence..."
This chant in French accompanied by a bongo drum marked Cardinal Pietro Parolin’s first encounter with a delegation of Congolese Catholics in the capital, Kinshasa.
The Vatican’s Secretary of State made the trip to the DRC in Pope Francis’ name, since the Pope was forced to postpone his Apostolic Journey due to treatment for severe knee pain.
Saturday morning was filled with activities for the Cardinal, whose visit included a stop at the headquarters of the Congolese Bishops’ Conference (CENCO), where he was welcomed with a ‘welcome’ sign and a bouquet of flowers. He was joined by the Conference’s president, Archbishop Marcel Utembi Tapa of Kisangani, and Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, the Archbishop of Kinshasa, and the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Ettore Balestrero.
‘Here to anticipate the Pope's trip’
Greeting the group of singing women and other representatives of CENCO, Cardinal Parolin asked for everyone to pray for Pope Francis’ trip, which he said the Pope greatly desires to make as soon as conditions permit. The Cardinal reassured the Congolese people that he “is not coming as a substitute for the Holy Father, but to anticipate his arrival.”
Encounter with President Tshisekedi
Cardinal Parolin also with President Felix Tshisekedi in the city of Oua, a huge complex overlooking the Congo River that was formerly the headquarters of the African Union. Accompanied by their respective delegations, the Cardinal and the President discussed numerous issues, including the nation's security and concern about violence in the eastern part of the country.
After inquiring about the Pope's health and reiterating everyone's great expectation for his visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo, President Tshisekedi expressed his desire for peace and stability for the conflict-scarred eastern regions.
The conversation then stressed the need for collaboration between the Church and civil authorities on behalf of the Congolese. Cardinal Parolin assured the Pope's closeness and remarked on the Holy See's and the Church's commitment to foster paths of peace and development.
Meeting with Monusco
Cardinal Parolin also visited the headquarters of MONUSCO, the UN’s peacekeeping mission in the DRC since 1999 to help stabilize the country.
In the absence of the Secretary-General's special representative (who was in New York for the UN Security Council), the deputy representative, Khassim Diagne, welcomed Cardinal Parolin and offered a briefing outlining the political and security situation, particularly the problems in the east of the country and the refugee emergency, as well as MONUSCO's work to address these issues.
Peace in North-Kivu
Their main focus was on protection and peacekeeping operations in North Kivu, the scene of violence and constant threats, where Italian Ambassador Luca Attanasio was killed last year and where a stop was planned for Pope Francis' postponed trip.
Diagne and the other members of the U.N. delegation told the Cardinal about "massacred villages" and a population under constant "fear and panic" due to armed groups which Islamist movements have infiltrated. MONUSCO also works to "protect civilians,” "restore territorial integrity," and ensure "multifaceted security," according to the representative.
Cardinal Parolin expressed concern about the humanitarian situation in the East and thanked MONUSCO for its "excellent work."
"The situation is complicated and the challenges are enormous," the Cardinal said, calling for "solutions to be found" as the whole situation "weighs on the civilian population."
"Our hope is that violence will decrease" across the country, Cardinal Parolin said, and he urged the country to "restore the economy through its national resources," which he said are subject to vested interests, so that a “balance” may be created to endemic poverty in these areas.
He also invited the country to “protect people” and “welcome refugees.” Cardinal Parolin also recalled the role of the Congolese Bishops' Conference and the priests and religious serving in the country, saying “we can work together to improve the situation.”
Arrival Friday in Kinshasa
The Cardinal had arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo late Friday evening after a flight of more than ten hours, leaving from Rome-Fiumicino and passing through Paris on the way to Kinshasa.
He was greeted at the airport by the DRC foreign minister, Cristophe Lutundula Apala, and by the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Balestrero.
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