Time for impact assessment
Pope’s visit to DRC

Time for impact assessment

On Tuesday 31 January 2023, the country is in turmoil. Pope Francis has arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the first stage of his African tour. All the institutions of the republic, the opposition, civil society and pressure groups converged at Kinshasa’s Ndolo international airport, where the papal mass was held. Thousands of Catholic faithful were also present. On average, more than one million people joined in. Two months on, opinions differ on Pope Francis’ visit to the DRC

Insecurity in the East of the country

Pope Francis’ visit to the DR Congo has put a forgotten war on the world stage. National opinion in the DRC is that the Congo war has been forgotten by everyone and that the international community is not offering the necessary support to end it. The pontiff is therefore a very good way of drawing the attention of the other peoples of the world to the drama that is taking place in Congo. “The Congolese people, wounded by the recurrent insecurity, the multiform violations of human rights, the massive displacement of populations, especially in the provinces of Ituri and North Kivu, welcomed the Pope as a Consoler” Abbé Georges KALENGA, second Deputy General Secretary of CENCO

The Pope saw the victims of the war but did not go to Goma, in the east of the DRC and the heart of all the violence. This is something that Placide Nzilamba, technical secretary of civil society in North Kivu province, said. “The Pope should be going here to Goma but it is Rwanda with the M23 that has brandished terrorist threats, has taken over the localities just a few metres from where he should be holding his mass. Everything has been done so that the Pope does not see the reality on the ground,” he denounced in InsdeOver. A thesis that seems to convince also the Abbot Georges KALENGA who indicates that “the pullers of the strings of the insecurity that prevails in the East of the DR Congo wanted to prevent him by reviving the insecurity in North Kivu in Ituri while the first program provided as a place of visit Kinshasa, the capital, the city of Goma, and even Beni in the very first scheme. The Pope decided to carry out the apostolic visit to DR Congo, without the stage of Goma, undoubtedly because of insecurity” he said.

A handout picture provided by the Vatican Media shows Pope Francis attending a prayer meeting with priests, deacons, consecrated persons and seminarians at Notre Dame Du Congo Cathedral in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) EPA/VATICAN MEDIA HANDOUT

Some members of the citizens’ movement regretted the fact that the country did not mention Kigali, which Kinshasa accuses of supporting the M23, the rebellion that controls part of the national territory and has repeatedly threatened the city of Goma for several months. “We have raised awareness and our members have had to make banners and banners so that journalists and delegations who come with the Pope can know that the country is under attack. If the Pope would have mentioned Rwanda by name, it would be a good thing, but since he didn’t, it doesn’t matter,” says Marc, an activist from Kinshasa.

But if there is one point on which everyone agrees about the Pope’s visit to the DRC, it is the fact that it is making headlines in the international press.

Take your hands off the Congo!

“Take your hands off the Democratic Republic of Congo, take your hands off Africa! Stop smothering Africa: it is not a mine to be exploited or a land to be robbed. Let the world remember the disasters committed over the centuries to the detriment of the local populations and not forget this country and this continent,” said Pope Francis at Ndolo airport for his mass.

The Pope denounced the factors, including neo-colonialism, which favour the control of the natural resources of the DR Congo. “He called into question the great powers and multinationals that are laying their hands on the wealth and causing insecurity for a systematic plundering of the resources of the Congo. His visit, with its high pastoral and social impact, is a real plea, not only to the Congolese, but also to the international community for a responsible and humane ecology,” says Abbé Georges.

“The Pope used a magic formula. “Take your hands off the DRC”, it is addressed to everyone,” says Bienvenu MATUMO. Bienvenu is an activist of the “Struggle for Change” LUCHA, a citizen’s movement that participates as a pressure group on the country’s issues.

Democratic Republic of the Congo. Beni, January 2022. January 24, during the protest demonstration against the “État de siege” in Beni, Ushindi Mumbere, 23 years old, was killed by the police. The young man was member of youth non-party and non-violent movement L.U.C.H.A, that vindicates more rights for the population and the end of “état de siege” @Marco Gualazzini

The contrasting socio-political situation

“The Pope’s visit to the DR Congo confirmed the Congolese episcopate in its prophetic mission for the benefit of the population. In fact, the Catholic Church of Congo, through its pastors, the bishops of the 48 Catholic dioceses of the DR Congo, united in the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO), accompanies the Congolese state in its quest to be a state of law”, said Abbé Georges.

From the management of public affairs through democratic issues to the fight against the pursuit of personal interests, the Pope used a direct but gentle style to charge the Congolese authorities. 

“Many of you shine in the role you play. Those who hold civil and governmental responsibilities are called to act with crystalline clarity, living the function they have received as a means of serving society. Power is only meaningful if it becomes service. And at the same time, promote free, transparent and credible elections; extend participation in peace processes to women, young people and various groups, to marginalized groups; seek the common good and the security of people rather than personal or group interests; strengthen the presence of the State throughout the territory; take care of the so many displaced persons and refugees”.

Several observers believe that the Pope has not been listened to by the ruling class on the drifts that are observed in the country. 

“Here the Pope said but it is necessary that the structures of the Catholic Church put pressure to achieve the desired changes because the vision of the Pope is not different from that of the CENCO,” says Placide Nzilamba.

Bienvenu Matumo describes an alarming situation in the country on the points raised by the Pope during his visit to the DRC: “The Pope came with a speech of unity, love and forgiveness. But in practice there is mutual detestation for political reasons. When we look at the matters retained in the national assembly, we understand that there is a clear desire to create more division within the Congolese population through the Tshiani law (a law that aims to reserve the highest offices of the state, including the supreme magistracy, only to Congolese born of Congolese father and mother – editor’s note). 

Democratic Republic of the Congo. Beni, January 2022. The mother’s grief for the loss of her child, Ushindi Mumbere, 23 years old. January 24, during the protest demonstration against the “État de siege” in Beni, Ushindi Mumbere, 23 years old, was killed by the police @Marco Gualazzini

“The year 2023 is a year of expiry of mandates according to the provisions of the Constitution. The Church expects inclusive elections in the sense that the whole population, throughout the national territory, and even Congolese abroad, can participate in the elections without any discrimination,” adds Abbé Georges. 

According to Bienvenu, the Pope has left a great reserve with the archbishop of Kinshasa. “The Church in Congo has always been politically involved in the major issues of the country from Cardinal Malula to Cardinal Ambongo. The Pope’s message has come just to reinforce this social and political role that the Catholic Church does all the time. I am convinced that the church will remobilise to counter the political bodies that do not want to serve the people.

His message “All reconciled in Jesus Christ 

Catholic Christians and the Congolese people received the Holy Father’s message “All reconciled in Jesus Christ” as an invitation to national cohesion. The Pope’s apostolic journey was seen as a favourable moment to give more importance to what makes a nation strong. 

“Faced with so many challenges, the DR Congo, like a wounded man, abandoned to himself, seeks to heal its wounds of corruption, inter-ethnic conflicts, tribalism, insecurity carried by internal armed groups and those from abroad. The Congolese people, in their ethnic, geographical and cultural diversity, are called upon to root themselves in Christ as the vertebrae connect to the spine. The various tribes and ethnic groups that make up the Congolese people are called upon to enrich themselves with their differences and to share what is best in each of them,” says CENCO.

 “It is a message of peace and reconciliation that Pope Francis has come to bring to DR Congo. All his speeches and homilies, with the very rich symbols expressed, were centred around “peace”. He marked out the path to peace.