Congo, Democratic Republic of, The Catholic Church in
CONGO, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
Located in central Africa along the equator, the Democratic Republic of the Congo borders the Central African Republic and Sudan on the north, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania on the east, Zambia and Angola on the south and the Republic of the Congo on the west. Possessing only a few miles of South Atlantic Ocean coastline in its southwest at the mouth of the River Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo also benefits from access to Lake Tanganyika, which separates it from Tanzania in the southeast. In the rich Congo River drainage basin running its northern width, hot, humid temperatures prevail, while it is cooler and drier in the higher elevations to the south. The region's wealth of natural resources include cobalt, copper, cadmium, oil reserves, diamonds, gold, silver, zinc, tin, uranium, bauxite, coal, iron ore and timber, while agricultural produce consists of coffee, sugarcane, palm oil, rubber, tea, quinine, bananas, fruits and vegetables. Live volcanoes exist in the south.
Traversed first by the British missionary and explorer David Livingstone and then by Henry Morton Stanley in 1871, the Congo Basin was partitioned among Portugal, France and King Leopold II of Belgium in 1884. As the Congo Free State, the region was exploited under the personal rule of Leopold, leading to an international scandal after which the Belgian government assumed control in 1908. While the Belgians improved the lot of the region's native population in the areas of education, health care and economic development, they failed to train an intellectual or professional elite able to lead the government. The African nationalism movement of the 1950s and the hasty granting of independence in 1960 caused a breakdown of public order: due to corruption and a series
of political upheavals, the Belgian Congo became, successively, the Republic of the Congo (1960–64), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1964–71) and the Republic of Zaire (1971–97). International interest in the region due to its mineral wealth was also involved: The mutiny of the Congolese army in July of 1960 necessitated the intervention of a UN peacekeeping force; a secessionist movement in Katanga (now Shaba) from 1960–63 was supported by mining interests; and the separatist movement led from 1961–62 by Patrice Lumumba was aided by the Soviet bloc and by aggressively anti-colonial African nations. The departure of the UN forces in 1964 started another leftist and tribal uprising in the Kivu and eastern provinces that required the intervention of foreign mercenaries. The economy of the Congo, among the strongest in Africa before 1960, suffered seriously, and did not begin to recover until 1967 when a military dictatorship under General Mobutu Sese Seko nationalized the region's copper mining industry. Upheaval continued through 2000: in 1977 French troops were called in to quell rebellion; multiparty elections in 1991 resulted in riots and larson; and the rivalry between ethnic Tutsi and Hutu resulted in the overthrow of the government in 1997 and the renaming of the country. Economic problems continued to be exacerbated by an influx of refugees from wars in Rwanda and Burundi through the 1990s, and a civil war waged by eastern separatists was only temporarily brought to a halt by a cease fire in July of 1999.
History to Vatican II
Although Portuguese explorer Diogo Cāo discovered and claimed the region around the mouth of the Congo River in 1484, attempts to explore and to develop the interior would be only partially successful until the explorations of David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley in the 1860s and 1870s. Cāo sent some of the native leaders to Lisbon, where they were treated royally at the court and were instructed in the Catholic faith. When these men returned the following year, they converted the local king. Portuguese Franciscans, Canons Regular and secular priests began a systematic and very successful evangelization around the mouth of the Congo in 1490. King Nzinga was baptized in 1491, and had the church
of Sāo Salvador (now in northern Angola) erected in his capital, which became the seat of a bishopric in 1597. He developed along the left bank of the Congo a Christian kingdom modeled on Portugal. Christianity spread widely in this area under King Alfonso (1506–43). His son Don Henrique was ordained, and in 1518 he was consecrated titular bishop of Utica, becoming the first native bishop of black Africa. Until his death c. 1535, he remained in the Congo.
Development of the Missions. In the Congo, as in Angola to the south, the missions experienced alternating gains and reverses, in part due to the difficulty in communicating the faith to native peoples, the demoralizing effects of the slave trade and the ceaseless tribal wars. Despite frequent petitions by Congolese kings for more missioners, Portugal insisted on its rights of padroado, and admitted only Portuguese as missioners, even though it became less and less capable of supplying them. In 1640 the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith created the Prefecture Apostolic of the Congo, which was confided to Italian Capuchins. A seminary, opened in 1682, supplied a number of native priests. However, in the 1760s the anticlerical policies of the Marquis de pombal seriously injured the Church throughout all Portuguese territories, and the rapid decline of the mission continued in the 19th century (see patronato real).
Rebuilding the Missions. By 1865 The Congo had in good part reverted to paganism when the Holy Ghost Fathers assumed responsibility for the lower Congo River region and established a mission at Boma ten years later. By 1878 Belgian White Fathers had penetrated the eastern
sections from Lake Tanganyika; their province was entrusted with the Vicariate Apostolic of the Upper Congo, created in 1888. After King Leopold II of Belgium was given control of the Congo Free State, most of the region was confided to the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Scheut Fathers). Missionary efforts, which continued after Belgium assumed control of the region in 1908, continued to be hampered by the ruthless slave trade continued by the Arabs and Portuguese, and additional hardships, such as climate, disease and travel, took a heavy toll on the missionaries.
During World War I the missions languished, but the improved roads and communications infrastructure constructed following the war facilitated evangelization, resulting in rapid growth. The Catholic population, 350,000 in 1921, had increased to 1,700,000 by 1941 and reached 4,000,000 during the mid-1950s. The first native priest was ordained in 1917, and a Congolese bishop was consecrated in 1956. The hierarchy was established in 1959. By the mid-20th century the Congo had the largest Catholic community in the world. Catholic education, especially in the elementary schools, progressed greatly after 1924, when it began to receive government subsidies. Two-thirds of the elementary teaching came to be Catholic, compared to one-fourth Protestant. Unfortunately, the stability of the region ended with the movement toward independence from Belgian rule, which culminated in a new government on June 30, 1960.
Bibliography: j. van wing, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillart et al. (Paris 1912–) 13:444–450. e. weber, Die portugiesische Reichsmission im Königreich Kongo (Aachen 1924). g. goyau, "Les Débuts de l'apostolat au Congo et dans l'Angola," Revue d'historie des missions, 7 (1930) 481–514. j. cuvelier and l. jadin, L'Ancien Congo, d'après les archives romaines (1518–1640) (Brussels 1954). b. m. biermann, "Zur Geschichte der alten Kongo-Mission," Neue Zeitschrift für Missionswissenschaft, 4 (1948) 98–104; 8 (1952) 67–68. k. s. latourette, A History of the Expansion of Christianity, 7 v. (New York 1937–45) v.5, 7. g. noirhomme et al., L'Église au Congo en 1963 (Léopoldville 1963).
The Modern Church
Civil disorders throughout the region after independence resulted in the abandonment of many missions and a return to the practice of indigenous tribal religions, which tolerated polygamy. Many priests and religious men and women were slaughtered amid a rising swell of African nationalist fervor. In November of 1965 a military coup brought to power President Mobutu Sese Seko, who quelled the rebellion and the civil war in Katanga, Stanleyville and the Kwilu and allowed the country to begin to rebuild itself. By the early 1970s the region had one of Africa's strongest economies.
The Suppression of the Church. Several years into his administration, Mobutu initiated the politics of "authenticity," which combined the writings of African nationalist Patrice E. Lumumba, the negritude movement, and the influence of Chinese communist leader Mao Tse Tung into a political philosophy designed to foster political revolution and cultural identity. In the end, Mobutu's policy of nationalization, an integral component of the politics of authenticity disintegrated into economic mismanagement, corruption and a cult of personality.
In 1972, because of his protest against the distorted vision of the politics of authenticity, Cardinal Malula was forced into exile in Rome. Two years later the central committee of Mobutu's Mouvement Populaire de la Révolution (MPR) adopted a new, anti-Christian constitution embodying the so-called "great decisions of radicalization." Mobutu was declared a Messiah; "mobutuism" was granted the status of a religion, and the MPR was made a church. The MPR was also declared the only legal political party. Freedom of information ceased to exist and Church property was confiscated. Christian names, including those of many towns and cities in the country, were suppressed, religion was removed from school curricula and all Christian solemnities were transferred to Sunday so that even Christmas ceased to be a holiday. Holy pictures and images were replaced by a picture of Mobutu. Confiscated minor seminaries were converted by the state into public schools, while the MPR's youth units were introduced in the major seminaries. Meetings of the Zairean Episcopal Conference were forbidden.
The Influence of Vatican II. For the church, Mobutu's anti-Christian policies were a tragedy. The Second Vatican Council of the mid-1960s had sparked positive transformations, such as the Commission on Evangelization's 1969 undertaking of a monumental project of inculturation of the eucharistic liturgy in Zaire that would culminate in Vatican approval of the missal for the dioceses of zaire in 1988. Torn from the inspiring themes of Vatican II, the Zairean Episcopal Conference was forced to focus on defending religious freedom, the freedom of the Church and the rights of individuals in a time of political upheaval and economic recession by 1972. Despite the restrictions placed on them, bishops, as well as the outspoken Cardilan Malula (c. 1989) repeatedly addressed social and economic issues, reaffirmed foundational principles and attacked the secular character of Mobutuism. The pastoral letters Tous solidaires et responsables (1977) and Appel au redressement de la Nation (1978) courageously named the "Zairean Evil" and its causes while renewing the Church's commitment to fight evil and promote a sustainable development. In 1985 they published a pastoral letter on the meaning of political independence and an evaluation of 25 years of independence in Zaire. Most documents from the 1990s had the predominant theme of democracy and the rebuilding of the nation. Other pastoral letters dealt more directly with religious matters. Another indication of the Catholic Bishops' Conference's relevance was the joint statement on reconciliation made during the National Conference with the leaders of other religious denominations including the Orthodox, the Protestants, Kimbanguists and Muslims.
Resurgence of the Church. By the late 1970s the regional economy declined due to falling copper prices. Faced with rebellions in 1977 and 1978 that required the government to call in French mercenary troops, Mobutu began to moderate his stance. A new constitution promulgated in April of 1978 further moderated government views in the face of Church opposition that rallied almost half of the country's population. In 1980, the anniversary of 100 years of missionary activity in Central Africa, prompted Pope John Paul II's first pastoral visit to Africa. The pope was welcomed by the government, of then Zaire, for a second visit five years later.
Before independence, the Church operated almost all schools in the region, with its goals the elimination of illiteracy, the creation of the first national university in the country, the promotion of cross-cultural understanding and the increasing use of native languages in society. While control of education shifted to the state in 1974, and Church schools and seminaries were placed under strict government control, by 1986 the state reversed itself, restoring private education and resuming the pre-1961 policy permitting children to be educated in conformity with their religious beliefs. Catholic bishops played an important part in the reversal, issuing a declaration that reaffirmed what they considered indefeasible rights and principles of education for the child, the parents, the state and the Church. They encouraged the stimulation of private initiative in education as a replacement for the state's exclusive control. Subsequently, the number of private schools increased significantly.
Major state universities in the region were located in Kinshasa (founded as Lovanium University under Catholic auspices), Lubumbashi and Kisangani (Protestant). While the government had attempted, in 1971, to merge these schools into the National University of Zaire under the jurisdiction of the government, the experiment failed and the three universities eventually regained their autonomy. During the merger, the government suppressed confessional schools within the National University and in 1974 the Catholic bishops determined to organize a school of theology as a separate and autonomous unit. Thus, the first school of theology in black Africa was born and developed into the Catholic Faculties of Kinshasa (1988) under the direct control of the Episcopal Conference of Zaire. One of the most respected universities in the country, it comprised schools of philosophy, theology, development sciences and technology, and social communications. It also maintained a well-respected center for the study of African religions, the aim of which was to provide scientific study and understanding of African traditional religions and culture as a matrix of authentic African theology.
Upheaval Continues into 21st Century. By the mid-1980s the country was once again in chaos. The end of the Cold War, which had given Zaire its strategic importance as heart of the African continent, resulted in a declining concern as to its internal stability by Western superpowers. Extreme poverty, malnutrition and disease became rampant. By 1990 these things combined with the collapse of the country's economy and what the bishops called the "death" of the state, evoked renewed opposition to Mobutu and his government. Forced to agree to multi-party elections, Mobutu convened the Sovereign National Conference (Conférence Nationale Souveraine), a 15-month-long meeting of over 2,800 delegates from throughout Zaire to review the nation's plight. By public request, Kisangani Archbishop Laurent Pasinya Monsengwo, then chairman of the Episcopal Conference, presided over this gathering, and by 1992 had aided in drawing up a new constitution under a government led by a high council, a calendar for elections, and a system to deal with the economic crisis. Unfortunately, these plans were not implemented; instead anarchy prevailed, with Mobutu and the council appointing rival governments. The nation was effectively without a working government until 1994, when a transitional government was elected. In 1997 the Hutu government of Mobutu stepped down, forced from the office by Tutsi insurgents led by Laurent Kabila, who assumed the role of dictator and renamed the country the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Backed by Rwandan troops while attempting to oust Mobutu, Kabila soon became a new target of Rwanda. Civil war with neighboring regions to the east continued to leave the nation without a constitution, although the government respected the freedom of Catholics to worship provided they did not become a disruptive influence. Mobutu died in 1997, a year after Archbishop Christophe Munzihirwa Mwene Ngabo died in suspicious circumstances.
By 2000 there were 1,259 parishes tended by 2,350 diocesan and 1,365 religious priests. Other religious included approximately 1,475 brothers and 6,400 sisters, many of whom were engaged in operating the Church's 6,700 primary and 2,046 secondary schools. While bishops continued their efforts to urge all Christians within the nation to work for social justice, a greater sense and respect for life, communion with the ancestors and solid confidence in God, they were also forced to confront the escalation of violence directed toward civilian populations. In January of 1999 rebels attempting to overthrow the Kabila government massacred hundreds of villagers in the southeast. Churches in the eastern regions occupied by troops from Uganda and Rwanda were also targeted by these troops due to their perceived involvement in attacks upon the Tutsi in 1994. Bishop Emmanuel Kataliko of Bukavu was exiled under suspicion of inciting resistance, while reports continued to circulate of other priests and nuns violently attacked and church buildings destroyed. The plight of the thousands of Rwandan and Burundian refugees living camps in the northeast also remained a cause for concern, as humanitarian aid became increasingly rare due to the violence in the region. Reprisals by the Kabila government against Hutu refugees were also suspected. Congolese bishops joined with the country's Protestant and Muslim leaders in March of 2000 to begin a campaign of reconciliation conducive to the formation of a lasting peace. While U.N. forces entered the region in July of 1999, bishops feared that they would be of little deterrence to continued violence within such a vast region.
Bibliography: a. bolakof, Bakanja martiru wa biso (Kinshasa 1984). f. bontinck, L'évangélisation du Zaïre (Kinshasa 1980). conference episcopale du zaire, Annuaire de l'Eglise Catholique au Zaïre 1999–2000 (Kinshasa 2000). k. c. djungunsimba, Bakanja Isidore. Vrai Zaïrois, vrai chrétien (Kinshasa 1994). g. iwele, Mgr Monsengwo. Acteur et témoin de l'histoire (Louvain-la-Neuve 1995). s. s. mobutu, Loi-cadre numero 86/005 du 22/9/86 de l'enseignement national (Kinshasa 1986). k. ngoyi, L'enseignement de l'Église sur l'éducation, pro manuscripto (Nganda 1988). Bakanja Isidoro. Martire per lo Scapolare, ed. r. palazzi (Rome 1994). Also see Documentation et Information Africaines.