ARMY AND POLICE in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) stand accused of killing at least four people and injuring numerous others in attacks on more than 130 churches around the country.
In the latest incident Jan. 12, 2018, two people were injured when security forces reportedly fired tear gas at Kinshasa Cathedral after a Mass for lay people killed by military and police.
Father Apollinaire Cikongo, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Kananga Province which covers eight dioceses in central DRC, told us: “There was a Mass at Kinshasa Cathedral to memorialize at least four people killed on Dec. 31 .”
The priest continued: “After this Mass, the army and police again fired tear gas and two people were injured.”
Church leaders have blamed DRC’s security forces for attacks over holidays, which took place at 134 churches and chapels in the capital and a number of provinces in the country.
Soldiers and police are accused of firing live ammunition as the faithful were coming out of Mass at St Dominic’s Church in Limete.
Accusing the DRC’s police and army of an unprovoked attack in the grounds of the church, St Dominic’s parochial vicar, Father Jean Nkongolo, said that when he asked them to stop shooting the parishioners, he was shot in the face by a rubber bullet and injured.
Besides rubber bullets, security forces also fired ‘stun’ projectiles and tear gas at the religious procession on the church’s grounds, reportedly almost killing a woman. Four other parishioners were injured by rubber bullets during the attack.
Father Nkongolo’s account was relayed through Father Cikongo who said: “Every Sunday after Mass the parishioners go the Grotto of Our Lady within the church grounds to pray the Salve Regina prayer and get a blessing.
“Father Nkongolo said that it was at this moment the parishioners were attacked and shot with tear gas and rubber bullets by the security forces.”
Describing how Father Nkongolo received his facial injury, Father Cikongo said: “Father Nkongolo went over to the police to tell them to stop, insisting that the people were innocent and had done nothing wrong.
“Father Nkongolo told me that it was at this moment that a policeman shot at him with a rubber bullet, aiming directly at his eyes, but thanks be to God, Father Nkongolo reacted quickly and moved his head away from the shot. Otherwise he would have been hit in the eyes, but he was shot on the side of his face.”
Father Cikongo said that after the attack Father Nkongolo noticed a woman shot in the head, picked her up off the ground and carried her into the church.
Father Cikongo said: “This one lady was shot in the head with a live bullet. Fr Nkongolo said: ‘we thought at the time that she was dead but she had survived.’” The woman was taken to hospital where latest reports describe her condition as stable.
Father Cikongo reported that, after the Mass, the parish had decided against taking part in a peaceful march to protest DRC’s President Joseph Kabila’s decision to renege on a deal to stand down and not serve a third term. The president’s refusal has sparked violence and unrest throughout the country.
But now, after the attack at Kinshasa Cathedral, Father Cikongo said the lay faithful—under the auspices of the the Lay Coordination Committee—have called for a peaceful demonstration on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018.
—Murcadha O Flaherty and John Pontifex