Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, Congo, concelebrates Mass July 6 at Notre Dame Cathedral in Ottawa, Ontario. The cardinal visited Ottawa July 5-13 at the invitation of Canada's Congolese community. CNS photo/Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News

Congolese cardinal a strong critic of President Kabila, puts faith ahead of fear

  • July 12, 2018

OTTAWA – There is no room for fear in the life of Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo.

Monsengwo is the outspoken prelate of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), one of most violent and volatile countries in Africa.

“A cardinal does not have fear,” said Monsengwo, who was in Ottawa July 5-13 at the invitation of Canada’s Congolese community. “It is a mission to defend the faith, to the cost of shedding one’s blood. I’m not afraid to do that.”

On July 6, hundreds of Congolese Canadians gathered at Notre Dame Cathedral for a votive Mass for peace in the DRC that has seen increased tension since president Joseph Kabila failed to hold elections as promised in a 2016 deal brokered by the Catholic Church. The Church is the DRC’s largest non-state actor and its greatest provider of social services.

Monsengwo, an frequent critic of Kabila, asked for continued prayers for the DRC as the country’s political and economic plight continues to deteriorate.

Little by little, through prayer and peaceful demonstrations, he hopes the people of the DRC will guide the country towards elections, the cardinal said in an interview in French July 9.

“The president wants to remain,” he said.  “The people don’t want him. The people want him to go towards elections.”

There are individuals in the opposition parties who want a transition government to hold elections instead of having the Kabila government do so, Monsengwo said. An international group of observers has warned the president may be trying to “create a state of emergency” so he can “declare martial law” and stay in power. 

According to recent news reports, armed conflict is already taking place in 10 of the country’s 26 provinces, especially in the eastern region. More than four million Congolese are internally displaced, with many others having fled to neighbouring countries.

In January, Kabila forces killed at least six peaceful demonstrators and injured dozens more, many of them Catholics who were carrying bibles and rosary beads.

The country has been torn by ethnic strife, rebel factions as well as the Kabila government’s harsh rule. The DRC’s woes have been compounded by conflict over the country’s rich mineral resources.

In the 1990s, the country was wracked by two wars, culminating in civil war from 1997-1999. 

Canada has recently sent peacekeepers to Mali. Asked if he would like to see Canadian peacekeepers join the 18,000 United Nations forces already in the DRC, the Cardinal replied: “Officially, the country does not want more blue helmets. (They say) it costs them too much, even though they don’t pay anything.

“But the people want them,” he said. “With the blue helmets, they are able to follow what is happening in different parts of the country.”

Monsengwo’s condemnation of the current regime has put him in a dangerous position, but he says  he does takes measures to stay safe. 

“Naturally, I am prudent,” he said.  “I don’t eat just anything; I don’t drink just anything.”

When he’s at home, the two women who prepare and serve his food are his nieces, he said.  “No one else enters into the kitchen.”  

The cardinal had a packed scheduled while in Ottawa, including Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral, a photo session, a fundraiser at Ottawa’s Congolese parish at the Church of Mary Mediatrix and attending a day-long Festival of the Word of God in Orleans. One regret, he said, was not being able to visit the Canadian family that had helped support him as a seminarian back in 1958.

While the DRC faces massive political and economic problems, the Catholic Church there is “alive and growing,” he said.

Asked what encouragement he might offer Canada, where the Catholic faith has declined, Cardinal Monsengwo said, “Naturally, the faith in Canada is not like it was in the past,” where there were many families like the one that supported him as a seminarian.  “We couldn’t have imagined in the past this problem would come to Canada.  This evolution could be normal.”

“I could encourage Canadian Catholics to hold fast, to be steadfast in their faith,” he said. “That is what we would wish for them.”

Asked whether, in the next conclave, the Church might choose a Pope from Sub-Saharan Africa, Cardinal Monsengwo said he was asked a similar question before the conclave that elected Pope Francis, the first Latin American Pope: Was the Church was ready for a black pope?

“If you love someone you would not wish him to become pope,” he said. “The responsibility is so great. It is a mission we accept, because the Lord asks us, and gives us the grace, but it is not something we would want to wish on anyone.”

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