A Stern Pope Francis Receives Congo’s President Kabila

Pope Francis (R) talks with Democratic Republic of Congo's President Joseph Kabila during a private audience in the pontiff's studio, at the Vatican, on September 26, 2016. / AFP / POOL / ANDREW MEDICHINI (Photo credit should read ANDREW MEDICHINI/AFP/Getty Images)

As violence continues unabated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pope Francis met with President Joseph Kabila Monday, sending what observers describe as unspoken yet clear messages of disapproval for the leader’s handling of internal problems.

Although the Vatican’s official report of the meeting suggested a cordial encounter between the two leaders, it lasted barely 20 minutes, much less than a normal audience of the sort.

Moreover, the Pope—described as “glum-looking”—broke with protocol by receiving Kabila in the papal library, rather than the usual receiving room used for visiting heads of state.

In its diplomatically worded communiqué, the Vatican highlighted the “serious challenges” placed by the current political climate in the country as well as the “recent clashes” that have occurred in the capital. President Kabila has delayed holding presidential elections and many fear that he means to eliminate them altogether, despite the fact that he cannot legally continue in office.

The focus of the dialogue, the Vatican said, was the “persistent violence suffered by the population in the east of the country” and the urgency of reestablishing civil co-existence.

Just hours before the meeting, violence once more erupted in the capital city of Kinshasa, resulting in the deaths of some 100 persons.

In past days, the auxiliary bishop of Kinshasa, Donatien Bafuidinsoni, denounced the dramatic situation in the Congo, underscoring President Kabila’s responsibility for the crisis.

“We are on the brink of a new global conflict,” Bafuidinsoni said. “If, as it seems, President Kabila will not hold elections and give up power after his two terms—as required by the Constitution—the whole country will fall into civil war.”

“It is clear to everyone now that Kabila intends to hold onto power,” the bishop continued. “People cannot take it any longer, partly because his circle and a select few wealthy others have increased their wealth to frightening levels, while the vast majority of the population is floundering in poverty,” he said.

In mid-August, Pope Francis made reference to the beleaguered African state during his Angelus message. “My thoughts turn to the residents of North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” he said, “recently struck by new massacres which for some time have been perpetrated in shameful silence, without even attracting our attention.”

“Sadly, these victims are part of the many innocent who have no bearing on world opinion,” he said.

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