The Church's Response to Tragedy in Congo Is "to Proclaim the Gospel of Life"

Interview with Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kisangani

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KINSHASA, JULY 29, 2003 (ZENIT.org-Fides).- Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kisangani, president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), says the challenge for Christians living in the turbulent Great Lakes region of Africa is to live according to the Gospel.



The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is in a delicate stage after the installation of a new national unity government on July 17. The first meeting of the new executive was postponed when ministers from the rebel positions refused to take an oath of loyalty to President Joseph Kabila.

In this interview, the archbishop explains the situation in the country.

Q: Your country has been disrupted by civil was since 1998, which has cost at least 3 million lives. Are there any signs of hope?

Archbishop Pasinya: Recent achievements, in particular the agreement to adopt a Constitution of transition and to form new political institutions, government, parliament, magistrates, are important signs of hope although slow and nullified by possible conflict.

Q: How can the work of evangelization continue in a country divided by war? How can progress be made for peace and reconciliation?

Archbishop Pasinya: War always poses a number of challenges to the Church and her mission of evangelization. In the first place, war always divides the population in two or more parties. The Church has to overcome these divisions with initiatives which demonstrate that she is a sacrament of unity for all mankind, as the Second Vatican Council teaches.

Secondly, war is a threat to life. The Church has the duty to proclaim the Gospel of life, drawing attention to crimes which trivialize human life.

Thirdly, as a pastoral letter entitled "Christ Our Peace," issued by the Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, states, "war and conflict always begin when rights are violated." The Church must denounce violation of human rights and proclaim that there can be no peace without justice. In the case of our country, the Church must insist on solutions based on dialogue rather than on arms and with full respect for the rights of countries, territorial integrity and national sovereignty, rights of individuals and communities.

Fourthly, war causes the spread of sentiments of hatred, revenge, and xenophobia. The Church, sacrament of forgiveness and reconciliation, must proclaim the Gospel of forgiveness, reconciliation, and brotherhood: "There can be no justice without forgiveness" (John Paul II). In the Democratic Republic of Congo, as all over Africa, the Catholic Church has made the concept of "Church Family of God" its motto in the struggle to end war: you cannot kill your brothers and sisters. The family is not a place of dispute and conflict, but of harmony and peace."

Q: What other challenges face the Church in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?

Archbishop Pasinya: Besides the four challenges mentioned -- being witnesses to the unity of the human race; to the Gospel; peace [and] justice; forgiveness, reconciliation and brotherhood -- Christians face another challenge: how to be both patriotic and brothers and sisters of the people at war with our country.

In fact the Lord proffers a great challenge to his disciples in Africa of the Great Lakes region, to live according to the Gospel. Moreover, it is not easy to be faithful to one's theological experience especially for the pastors whose task it is to sustain the people's hope. Lastly, the great challenge is preferential option for the poor, the disinherited, refugees, homeless, people whose situation is ever more tragic.

Q: What conclusions were reached by the Plenary Assembly of Congo's Bishops, held on July 7-12 in Kinshasa?

Archbishop Pasinya: The Assembly was special for the fact that we assembled while Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, was visiting the country. We had two sorts of working meetings. On the one hand, meetings with Cardinal Sepe and all the bishops at the Bishops' Conference's (CENCO) head office, at the Nunciature and with the provincial assemblies, and on the other, meetings of the CENCO.

During the latter we examined reports presented by the various CENCO Commissions, approved the new statutes for diocesan clergy in Congo, and discussed a draft of statutes for lay Catholics. Noting among the national political leaders a lack of will to find a suitable solution for the people of Congo, the Assembly of Bishops called on public officers to work conscientiously at this task, and on the people to persevere on the path of forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace.