In a moving commemorative celebration this Friday 9th February the Catholic Church in Kinshasa loudly declared its determination not to be cowed by growing harrassment – some speak of persecution – of the current regime. Here’s my articulation of what I witnessed this morning:
The two VIPs in the bench next to me were clearly not happy. They started remonstrating with one of the ushers: ‘We should have had a place there in the front benches reserved for us. Your organisation is a shambles!’ Their demonstration of bruised egos stood in sharp contrast to what ensued at the celebration in the cathedral of Our Lady of Congo in Kinshasa this Friday morning. The Catholic Church-that-is-in-Kinshasa was commemorating the victims of police violence who died during the latest peaceful march on 21 January.
A host of ambassadors, members of the opposition and leaders of the Collective of Catholic Lay Persons (CLC) who spearhead the marches, occupied the front benches in the full glare of the assorted media when a little after 10 am the long procession of acolytes, priests and four bishops made their way up the central aisle. Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, the 78 year old leader of the Catholic Church in DR Congo, presided over the Eucharist assisted by his three auxiliary bishops and numerous priests.
There is much speculation over what will be the future roll of this indomitable advocate of good governance, justice, dignity, basic human rights now that his successor has been appointed in the person of archbishop Fridolin Ambongo. Cardinal Monsengwo has played a pivotal roll in the political history of DR Congo over the past several decades. His likely successor equally has a reputation of fearless denunciation of the country’s ills and of castigating the political class for its selfish neglect of the common good.
The readings taken from the Apocalypse and the Beatitudes of the Gospel of Matthew seemed to voice the essence of the gospel inspired non-violent protest and the call for a society where everyone can flourish and live life to the full.
The often stirring words of the homilist, Fr Luyeye chaplain at the Cathoic University, were interrupted again and again by loud applause from the ‘petit peuple’ in the benches at the back. ‘We are not afraid of those who make the dead bodies of victims of the violence of 21st January disappear. But we do have pity on them for they know not what they are doing’. Denouncing as treason the conduct of the security forces ‘who are called to protect and not to kill’, he went on the reflect on the beacon of faith that must shine in the darkest corners of the world and not allow itself to be confined in the sacristy.
‘The late Cardinal Malula used to say: ‘Misa esili, tokomi bapostolu’ – the Mass is finished, we now go out to be witnesses’. ‘So, our marches are not finished, we will not give up, we will continue. There will be a new Congo’.
Stirring words indeed! Everyone rose when the homilist concluded and clapped in response raising the volume a few decibels when he subsequently was embraced by Cardinal Monsengwo.
The Eucharist concluded with a moving tribute to the victims of the violence whose photographs were on prominent display at the foot of the altar. Thierry Nlandu, one of the leaders of the Collective of Catholic Lay Persons (CLC), chose to address his poignant homage to one of the five, Thérèse Kapangala (24), whose police officer father is now in hiding. In her name he asked: ‘Who did this, who gave the orders, who, who???’
Finally a priest of the archdiocese of Kinshasa spoke of the current targeting of priests and also religious in a campaign of intimidation of the Catholic Church. (Persecution is a word you hear more and more in people’s conversations in Kinshasa). ‘Many of you who do this are yourselves Catholics’, he declared. ‘Mend your ways’….
‘A vous les armes, à Dieu – Amour la victoire’ .
You have the weapons, but love will overcome in the end.
Fons Eppink mhm