Update: Congo's church leaders shocked after 8 dead in anti-Kabila protests



KINSHASA, Congo (CNS) — Church
leaders in Congo expressed shock after security forces fired on Catholic
protesters, leaving at least eight dead and 120 people detained.

The Dec. 31 protest against rule
by President Joseph Kabila was organized by the Kinshasa archdiocesan lay
coordination committee. At least a dozen priests were among those detained.

“We condemn with utmost
vigor this unjustified violence,” the Congolese bishops’ conference said
in a statement Jan. 2.

“We similarly denounce this
attack on freedom of worship, which is guaranteed in every democratic state, as
well as the profanation of churches and physical aggression against the
faithful and their priests.”

The statement said the bishops
were “profoundly shocked by such ignoble acts,” and would demand a “serious
and objective inquiry” into who was responsible.

Police used tear gas and batons
against Massgoers in some of the capital’s 150 parishes and violently broke up
attempted marches in which protesters demanded fresh elections in the country.

On Jan. 3, National Public Radio reported that Cardinal
Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa called the response “nothing short
of barbaric.” He said people at Mass, armed only with Bibles and rosaries, were
attacked with tear gas.

“How can we trust leaders incapable of protecting the population, of guaranteeing peace, justice and love of people?” the cardinal asked a news conference. “How can we trust leaders who trample on religious freedom of the people, religious freedom which is the foundation of all freedom?”

A U.N. spokeswoman said seven
deaths had been recorded in Kinshasa, and another at Kananga.

The violence was condemned by U.N.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who urged Kabila’s government to show
restraint and “respect the rights of Congolese people to free expression.”

The Catholic Church makes up
around half the 67.5 million inhabitants of Congo, and the bishops have pressed
Kabila to step down since his second and final term expired in December 2016.

Later, a church-brokered accord
allowed the president to stay in office, alongside an opposition head of
government, pending elections by the end of 2017. However, in November, Congo’s
Electoral Commission said the ballot would be postponed until Dec. 23, 2018.

In a November statement, the
bishops’ conference said church observers had recorded 56 deaths and 355
arrests in half a year of opposition protests. They urged Kabila to release
political detainees and stick to the Dec. 31, 2016, accord.

The rector of Kinshasa’s St. Alphonse Parish, Msgr. Hugues Ndongisila, told Radio France
Internationale that police had beaten and robbed Catholics when they sought
refuge in his church, also shooting out its stained-glass windows. He said the
bodies of two dead protesters had later been collected by the Red Cross.

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