By Adelaide Mena
Following recent attempts at brokering peace between the government and political opposition leaders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Catholic priests and religious are facing violent backlash around the country.
According to Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic aid society that works in the country, Catholics have experienced a slew attacks on churches and convents. In particular, a Carmelite Convent and a Dominican Church were both ransacked in late February.
Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, the Archbishop of Kinshasa, told the organization that the incidents “lead one to believe that the Catholic Church is being targeted deliberately, in order to sabotage her mission of peace and reconciliation.”
“Along with all bishops, we denounce these acts of violence, which are likely to plunge our country further into unspeakable chaos,” he said.
The attacks follow recent attempts by the Catholic Church in the DRC to mediate between talks between the government of President Joseph Kabila and the opposition. The opposition to President Kabila and claims of a constitutional crisis follow after his refusal to step down from office at the end of 2016.
Since then, the Congolese Bishops’ Conference has helped to broker a peace deal that would arrange for the peaceful transition of power. However, after delays for the funeral of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi and other conflicts, the peace agreement has all but dissolved, according to some reports. Presidential elections are now expected to take place at the end of 2017.
“Politicians ought to acknowledge with humility, before their nation and the international community, their political tendencies and the immorality of their self-serving decisions,” Cardinal Monswengwo said in a statement about the elections.
The attacks have continued into March. According to Crux, 25 Catholic Seminarians in Malole in the south of the country had to be evacuated by UN peace-keeping forces by helicopter after armed troops attacked the seminary. The attackers were part of a militia loyal to former tribal leader Kamwina Nsapu, who died in August 2016.
For the Catholics, the violence has been terrifying.
“They systematically broke down the doors to different rooms and destroyed everything inside. They entered the teachers’ rooms and burned their belongings,” Father Richard Kitenge, rector of the seminary, told Agence France-Presse.
Recently, the Church has also lead anti-corruption initiatives in the province and local area. The animosity towards the Church also extends outside of the church or convent walls.
“In the street, it’s not unusual to hear threats against the Church,” Father Julien Wato, the Dominican priest of Saint Dominic’s Church, the Kinshasa church vandalized in February said in a statement after the event.
Nearly half of the Congo’s 67.5 million people are Catholic. Previously, nearly 6 million people died in the 1996-2003 conflict over the nation’s transfer of power.