M23 rebels driven out the east of the country

The Catholic Church in the Congo rejoiced at the end of a yearlong military campaign in North Kivu by the defeated rebels of the M23 movement, but says that much remains to be done to consolidate that peace.

In a tour around areas held only days before by the rebels, Bishop Theophile Kaboyi Ruboneka of Goma called on citizens to work hard to consolidate a peace that was “acquired at the price of blood,” referring especially to the last offensive, which ended last Tuesday.

“We are thankful to God that this nightmare has ended,” Bishop Kaboyi told the UN-run Radio Okapi. “Now, as we are condemned to live together, we must be reconciled.”

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Congolese Catholic officials have made it clear that, despite an end to hostilities in North Kivu, their country has not seen the end of its trials.

Bishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu of the Bokungu-Ikela, president of the bishops’ justice and peace commission, announced Nov. 5 that the church would join an international ecumenical campaign for peace in the Great Lakes region. The campaign will be launched Dec. 1.

In that announcement, Bishop Ambongo spoke of the military cease-fire.

“The cessation of hostilities is an essential step forward for the consolidation of peace,” he said, but “we know that peace cannot be obtained by the barrel of a gun, and diplomatic pressure is not enough.”

For this reason, “international implication and support for building peace must be maintained,” as well as a “process of healing and pacification of wounded hearts in order to pursue a real culture of peace that promotes human rights and the duties of each member of the community.”

The yearlong campaign announced by Bishop Ambongo is being organised by the Association of Episcopal Conferences of Central Africa, along with Anglican colleges of bishops of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi.

With support from Catholic Relief Services and CAFOD, the US and British bishops’ international relief agencies, the campaign aims to mobilize communities in Congo, Rwanda and Burundi to work toward a culture of peace with justice, and to reach out to other faith groups that share the same commitment to peace. After the campaign’s launch, Catholic and Anglican bishops will issue a joint pastoral letter and will lobby for action at the local and international level.

Church leaders are not only cautious about the fragile nature of peace in eastern Congo. The quality of democracy and rule of law also concern them, and this was expressed by Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, at a Mass to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination.

The cardinal warned that President Joseph Kabila’s recent announcement that a national census should be held before the2016 general elections is a thinly disguised attempt to postpone elections so Kabila can remain in power for an illegal third term.

Cardinal Monsengwo also expressed his skepticism about the value of a national dialogue launched to address the issues of the legitimacy of Kabila’s presidency after contested general elections in 2011.

“We must have the courage to respect the term set by others, because God does not like dictators,” the cardinal said. He encouraged all political leaders who have completed their terms, or are unable to continue to exercise power, to step down, and he used the example of retired Pope Benedict XVI.

If Kabila wants to remain in office for a third term, he would have to modify the 2006 constitution. In an Oct. 30 statement, Congo’s bishops warned that the constitution “must not be modified in an arbitrary manner.”

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