A journey to the heart of Africa to bear witness to the closeness of the Church to those who suffer. With this spirit, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle travelled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the Pope’s Special Envoy to participate in the Third National Eucharistic Congress, held in recent days in Lubumbashi, in the south of the country. The Pro-Prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelisation also visited Goma, the capital of North Kivu region, where the population has been suffering for years from violence and armed clashes between government forces and M23 militias. In this interview with Vatican Media, the Filipino Cardinal dwells on the strength of the witness of the Congolese Christians and their special bond with Pope Francis.
Cardinal Tagle, you’ve just returned from visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo where you participated in the National Eucharistic Congress in Lubumbashi as Pope Francis’ special envoy. What impressed you most about the Congolese people and the Congolese Church?
We have a lot to learn from the people of Congo and the Catholics of Congo. First of all, you see the joy in them. A joy which is mysterious because we know that it is a people that suffers. So what is the secret of this joy? The faith and the hope that they have in the Lord, which is what the Eucharist is really all about! So it was a celebration which was also a testimony to the whole world of how faith in the presence of the Lord can transform suffering into an eruption of joy.
Pope Francis visited the Democratic Republic of Congo at the start of this year. Are there any visible fruits from that visit?
I should say yes! Aside from the memory, the deep memory of the Pope’s visit imprinted on the minds and hearts of the people, there is also a clinging to his message. For many, even the social workers, they said that the words of the Holy Father were a source of hope for them and if studied well could provide a path towards reconciliation and peace. And this is something that I encouraged too. When I met with the clergy, with the religious, I told them: “Please let us not allow the visit of the Holy Father to just be a piece of memory. No! Let it be transformed into a pastoral and missionary program”.
You also visited Goma, in the region of the drc most affected by violence and fighting. You brought the closeness of the Pope who did not have the possibility to visit Goma. How did the people respond to your visit?
I was overwhelmed, really overwhelmed and I just thought: “If the Holy Father were here, the Holy Father would certainly be very much consoled and encouraged in His ministry as Pope”. The people are in a very dire and destitute situation just like in any other refugee camp. But there are people who also have this burning desire for peace and we hope all the people who are involved in the conflict — whether local or international, whether political, military or business — would look at these people directly in the eyes and see the consequences of their choices. These are not numbers, these are human beings and so as human beings, they manifested their fidelity to the Holy Father. By the way, the Holy Father set up a project where the people can have clean, potable water and so… yes, it’s a human necessity, but it is also very biblical! Water, the sign of life, the sign of the Holy Spirit, and every time that people go there to draw water, I’m sure they pray for the Holy Father.
As Pro-Prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization, what do you see as the contribution of a Church like the one of Congo and more generally of Africa for the rest of the Church, also thinking about the upcoming Synod on Synodality?
The Church in Congo and maybe we can say in the whole continent of Africa, is a vibrant Church. In some parts of the Continent, they are very young. In Congo, the Church is youthful! They have young people: they pray, they sing, they move their bodies in prayer to the Lord. And I hope this will bring to the Synod and to the whole Church, now focused on synodality, bring this energy, upsurge of energy to the rest of the world. But at the same time, in the spirit of synodality, I hope the international community — beginning with the local churches outside of Congo — will listen to the cries of the poor. This is part of synodality: that we look at them and see brothers and sisters who are connected with us and our behaviours, our choices, our actions — wherever we are — have an impact on them and I hope this will be part of the synodal process.
By Alessandro Gisotti