A Catholic bishop in Congo warned of a loss of government control over parts of the country, three months ahead of a projected visit by Pope Francis.
“Our people are languishing in misery, while those managing the republic swim in abundance, showing indifference toward the martyred population,” said Bishop Placide Lubamba Ndjibu of Kasongo.
“We call on the government to restore sovereign power over this part of our national territory and ensure peace and security for its population — while swiftly providing humanitarian assistance to victims and allowing displaced people to return.”
The bishop circulated the appeal as Kenyan troops were deployed Nov. 2 as part of an East African regional force in eastern Congo, in a fresh bid to end violence by rival militia groups.
The bishop said people needing lasting solutions for disputes over gold mining in eastern Congo. He added that violence among rival armed groups had intensified, disrupting living conditions, agricultural supplies and basic services.
“All of this is sowing a climate of terror and desolation, accompanied by deaths, rapes, school closures, the destruction of food reserves and looting of livestock,” Bishop Ndjibu said.
“As a church, it is our responsibility to side with the victims and say with the prophet Habakkuk, ‘How long, Lord, must I cry out for help?'”
Pope Francis told African students in a Nov. 1 webinar he hoped to visit Congo and neighboring South Sudan in February, after postponing a planned July 2-7 visit because of health problems.
However, fears of insecurity have grown across the mineral-rich Congo, where troops from a 14,000-strong U.N.-backed multilateral stabilization mission, deployed since 1999, have come under attack for failing to provide protection against more than 120 armed groups, some linked to the Islamic State group.
The U.N.-backed Radio Okapi said dozens were killed in Oct. 2 militia clashes in Maniema, one of the Congo’s 26 provinces, while the pope deplored an Oct. 20 attack at Maboya by members of the Uganda-based Allied Democratic Forces. Those attacks left a Catholic nun and medical doctor, Sister Sylvie Kavuke Vakatsuraki, among seven dead.
In his message, Bishop Ndjibu urged belligerent groups to “stop the clashes and put swords away” and “resolutely commit to frank dialogue” with the government of President Felix Tshisekedi.
He called on local inhabitants to avoid “influence peddling, tribalization and hate speech likely to add fuel to the fire” and appealed to Catholic parishes to “provide spiritual guidance for those who need it so much.”
“We say no to violence, no to fratricidal clashes which inflict more multiform suffering on our population — no to killings and hatred,” the bishop added.
“We say yes to dialogue, yes to joint development and opening up, yes to peaceful coexistence between communities, yes to mediation and yes to advocacy for humanitarian assistance.”
Preaching Oct. 23 at the funeral of Sister Vakatsuraki, a member of the Little Sisters of the Presentation of Our Lady who worked at Maboya’s health center, Archbishop Melchisedec Sikuli Paluku of Butembo-Beni said every Congolese citizen had “something to contribute” in restoring peace. He urged people to “stop getting together with those who meditate evil.”
The Catholic Church, making up two-thirds of Congo’s 67.5 million inhabitants, has long been involved in peace efforts across the African country, where around 5 million people have been displaced by fighting over two decades.