Fraternity, ecology, and youth will be issues addressed on Republic of Congo papal trip, African priest predicts.
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The “Zairean Rite,” a form of the Catholic Mass that incorporates African elements, has come to be known and admired throughout the world. Pope Francis himself presided at a Mass according to the Zairean Rite in St. Peter’s Basilica in 2019, marking the 25th Anniversary of the Congolese Catholic Chaplaincy of Rome.
No doubt, it will be the rite used when Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Ndolo Airport in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Wednesday, February 1.
But, aside from the joyful musical strains, Fr. Godefroid Mombula will be paying special attention to what message Francis will bring at that Mass, as well as other venues, such as at meetings with victims from the Eastern part of the country, with young people and catechists, and with civil authorities.
The Pope will travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo for a three-day visit beginning January 31. He will then go directly to South Sudan, where he will spend three days before returning to Rome on February 5.
[In photo above, Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi Tshilombo and Pope Francis leave after their private audience at the Vatican on January 17, 2020.]
Fr. Mombula, academic secretary of St. Augustine University in Kinshasa, predicts that his message in Congo will incorporate teachings from three documents the Pope has issued since his election almost 10 years ago.
During an online presentation hosted by Aid to the Church in Need on January 16, Fr. Mombula gave an overview of the situation in his country, which is still plagued by regional conflict and poverty. Though the DRC is blessed with rich natural resources, many Congolese have not benefited from that wealth and live below the poverty line, he said.
“A long history of conflict, political upheaval and instability, and authoritarian rule have led to a grave, ongoing humanitarian crisis,” said the priest. “In addition, there has been forced displacement of populations in the eastern part of the country.” While access to education has improved considerably over the past two decades, the quality of education is extremely poor, he added.
Fraternity and social friendship
Since the departure of President Mobutu Sese Seko in 1998, the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo have been caught up in several wars, he pointed out. “Several rebel groups compete to extract maximum commercial and material benefits at an exorbitant human cost of millions of Congolese. The private sector plays a vital role in the continuation of war by facilitating the exploitation, transport, and marketing of Congo’s natural resources,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church, which has asserted its autonomy from the state since the country emerged from its colonial past, has come to be a leader in providing education and social services.
Fr. Mombula said the Pontiff is likely to draw from Fratelli Tutti, the 2020 encyclical on fraternity and social friendship; Laudato si‘, an apostolic exhortation on care for creation, issued in 2015, and Christus vivit, an apostolic exhortation on youth and young adults, issued in 2019.
“Fraternity and social friendship are necessary in an already globalized vision of the world, without excluding anyone,” Fr. Mombula commented. “Like St. Francis of Assisi, not only to love nature, but also to love our fellow men and women.”
Securing rights, duties, and dignity for every human being “gives us a common project for humanity. … Love opens frontiers, overcomes fears and differences. It also materializes in good policies for the common good. A new culture based on open dialogue with everyone, which also involves forgiveness and reconciliation, is the task of all religions and the commitment of every Catholic.”
As for Laudato si‘, the document outlines the causes of the imbalances in nature and in humanity and proposes Gospel-based solutions. “It invites to an ecological conversion and calls believers for a global transformation of the world together with all people of good will,”
And, in a country where some 66% of the population is below the age of 25, the message of Chritus vivit is that youth and young adults are not only the future, “they are the now of God,” the priest said. “They are influencing and impacting the Church and the world today, and any person of faith should be walking alongside them: as peers, as mentors, as guides, and as fellow travelers on the road toward Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God.”