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Community leader speaks of the importance of Pope Francis' visit to the DRC

Marie Anne Torres

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Cleophas Leke, originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is the Chairperson of the Toronto African Catholic Community. His full interview will air on behold in February.
Pope Francis will visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo next week, landing in the capital Kinshasa on January 31. He plans to go as a “pilgrim of peace” to a country with a long history of conflict, but one in which the Church plays a critical peacebuilding role.
To discover more, Marie Anne Torres, associate producer at Salt + Light Media, spoke with Cleophas Leke, Chairperson of the Toronto African Catholic Community. He originates from the DRC himself, and shares how significant the Pope’s visit will be to the Congolese people.
What is the role of the Catholic Church in the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Is the voice of the Church respected, listened to, trusted? 
To be honest with you, Marie Anne, we can do nothing in Congo without the Church. The Church in Congo is in charge of so many things – education, health systems, university. Everything comes from what the Church is doing. So the voice of the Church is heard. 
Each and every negotiation, even politicians negotiations, [are] done by the Church. 
In 1992, we went through the National Talk: we call it the Conférence Nationale Souveraine. That national talk was [led] by Msgr. Monsengwo who was the Archbishop of Kisangani. He led the National Talk and brought peace, brought everyone together. And after that he led the Parliament of Congo for four years, more than that. So the Church is the voice in Congo to bring peace, to bring people together.
Even now, everyone wants to know what [Archbishop of Kinshasa] Cardinal Ambongo is thinking about this and that. In Congo, we follow our priests, the priest is someone we follow – we follow our priests, we follow what they [say] on behalf of the Church.
From the examples you mentioned, it seems like the Church in the DRC really plays that peacemaking role. 
In Congo we believe that peace can come through the Church – and only through the Church. Peace in Congo can come only through the Church. If you are a politician in Congo, and you don’t deal with the Church, there will be no peace in what you are doing, because people will not follow you. People in Congo, they follow our pastors. Bishops, priests, and pastors. Very often they don’t listen to politicians because they know most of the time they lie. But not our pastors, not our priests.
What does the Visit of Pope Francis to the DRC mean for the Congolese people? 
These people have been waiting for Pope Francis since July of last year. They are all prepared to see the Pope, because the visit of the Pope is the new beginning of life in Congo. It’s the new hope, because there are problems in the east part of Congo, because of the war over there. The only one who can talk to each and everyone in Congo – politicians, military, the Church, different Churches – the only one who can talk, put everyone together, is Pope Francis.  
This visit is for each and every Congolese, for everyone in Congo. You leave your home in the morning, you don’t know how you will come back. Your child is leaving, you don’t know if your child is coming back safe. 
We say in the Church, “Say only one word…”. And the only one who can say the word is Pope Francis, who can bring everyone together. That’s why it’s exciting for us to see him in Kinshasa, in Congo.
I know the prayer you’re speaking about, “Only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.” It sounds like the Congolese really need Pope Francis, really need peace, need reconciliation. 
Yes, Marie Anne. Pope Francis is like the light. The new hope. There is no way, right now – with what [is happening] in Congo – there’s no way, because those involved have been trying to go through talks in Rwanda, talks in Kenya, talks in the United States. They’ve been through so many talks to bring peace in Congo. They never got that. And the only way that peace as I said can come in Congo is through the Church. 
For us to know that the first leader of the Church is coming to Congo…There are so many countries who want to welcome the Pope. But we are lucky right now, to see that light coming to shine upon us, with the visit of our Pope Francis.

“Pope Francis is like the light. The new hope.”

It feels like the very light of Christ, the voice of Christ is coming to Congo. For many years the people of the DRC have endured hardship and difficulty. What has kept the flame of faith alive in the hearts of the Congolese? What has given them hope all this time, until now? 
The Congolese [are a] very, very, very strong people. [They are] people who believe in their unity. They stand together. Even moments of difficulties like the war in the east. They are always together. As I said to my family, the little that they have, they share. Because they need to be together, they need peace. 
They are strong believers. They believe in God, they trust God, but also they trust each other. 
They need someone who can talk, who can bring people together. The visit of the Pope is the new beginning of hope because the light is coming to shine upon this population who trusts in God, who believes in God – but not in the politicians. 
Marie Anne, you have to see how they are singing. I have so many videos I got from Kinshasa. They are singing to welcome the Pope. They sing, and they are praying the Pope comes to Congo at any time, because they need hope, they need the new beginning which starts with his visit.
Thank you Cleophas for your time. Thank you for everything that you’ve shared. 
This interview has been edited for clarity and length. To see the whole conversation, stay tuned for the next episode of behold, which airs in February on Salt + Light TV and on demand on Salt + Light Plus.
Click here for all our coverage of Pope Francis' Apostolic Journey to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.

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