Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo: “The Pope is coming to visit a country in great suffering”

The cross : What is the state of mind of the Congolese on the eve of the Pope’s arrival?

Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo: General satisfaction dominates. Finally, the Pope is coming to visit us in the Congo! John Paul II had come twice, Benedict XVI never; which was not well experienced by the Church of Congo, the largest Catholic Church in Africa. It took another ten years for Pope Francis to begin this journey. This is why the people are over the moon: finally the successor of Peter comes to see them.

What do you expect from this trip?

Card. HAS. : Beyond the curiosity of seeing the Holy Father, our expectations are linked to the current context. François comes to visit a country in economic, social, political, security and health crisis. Many of our compatriots in eastern DRC are experiencing suffering and violence that can no longer be described. This suffering widens towards the west as in the territory of Kwamouth, at the gates of Kinshasa. And insecurity is spreading everywhere, especially in the big cities. A people living in such a situation receives a visit from the pope as a comfort.

Can this trip make a difference to the realities you describe?

Card. HAS. : I believe him. Not immediately, not in two months, not in a year. The pope is not a magician who has the power to transform things immediately. But his visit can constitute a seed of hope that he comes to plant among us, a seed that could develop and change the future of the people.

The Congo is one of the countries with the richest subsoil in the world, yet the inhabitants are among the poorest on earth. The word of the pope, we hope, could touch the conscience of one and all, especially of those who exercise power so that this scandal is not perpetuated.

Since independence, hasn’t the Catholic Church in the Congo failed to touch the conscience of its leaders?

Card. HAS. : When we see the reality, indeed, we can conclude that the Church has failed. Since independence, one has the impression that the situation has deteriorated despite the involvement of the Church, although a good part of those who exercised power were trained by it.

However, I think that we cannot measure his action over such a short period during which we were strongly opposed by the political power: Cardinal Malula by Marshal Mobutu, Cardinal Monsengwo by Mobutu and by the Kabila father and son.

As pastors, our priority is to profoundly change the person of the Congolese. We think that the evils of our country come from the depths of the Congolese: he has lost the sense of values, of his responsibility. Our priority is to evangelize it, the rest will come later.

But isn’t the politico-economic elite primarily responsible for this chaos?

Card. HAS. : It is doing them a lot of honor to call them “elite”. Those who lead us see the short term. They indeed bear a major responsibility for the catastrophic state in which our country finds itself. However, how to explain that the people accept to live in so much misery and injustice? He does not react, he accepts everything.

When the Congolese demonstrated, they were shot at, their leaders were arrested. Faced with this power, what to do?

Card. HAS. : Freedom and dignity have a price. You cannot claim to live with dignity without paying the price. I have more consideration for a people who rise up than for a people who fold their arms so as not to be killed.

Didn’t you yourself end up “folding your arms” in the face of President Félix Tshisekedi, whose fraudulent election you denounced four years ago?

Card. HAS. : We know that his election was a deception, we said so. However, the international community has recognized this election. As Archbishop of Kinshasa, I don’t have the power to stand apart. Common sense dictated that we come to terms with him and accompany him in his work for the good of the country.

The pope is going to receive victims from Kivu. What will he be able to tell them?

Card. HAS. : Knowing his mode of operation, I believe that he will show them all his concern to accompany them on the road to recovery. By coming here, François commits himself in a way to accompany these victims so that the cause of their suffering ceases.

What is the cause of their suffering?

Card. HAS. : I believe that those who attack Rwanda are right. This country is behind the M23 rebellion and it plunders our wealth for its own profit. Those who attack our politicians are also right. Some are war entrepreneurs who take advantage of the chaos to exploit the mines. Those who attack multinationals and foreign powers are also right: the latter need our minerals for their industries, they are no strangers to the human catastrophe that is taking place there.


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Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo: “The Pope is coming to visit a country in great suffering”

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