NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) – Catholic bishops in Congo have called for an end to attacks on the church and its leaders, acts they say are linked to the church’s continuing call for democracy and national cohesion.

The bishops said the archdiocese of Kinshasa was targeted as well as places of worship – including parishes, Marian caves, altars and shrines – in the diocese of Mbujimayi.

Bishop Bernard-Emmanuel Kasanda Mulenga of Mbujimayi had highlighted the saddening acts in a letter to the bishops’ conference on July 26, claiming that the place had been desecrated.

The Congolese episcopal conference, known by the French acronym CENCO, “strongly condemns these inadmissible acts of violence, which constitute a serious attack on freedom of religion and expression, but also a violation of democracy”, Father Donatien Nshole , secretary general of the conference, said in a statement on Aug. 2. “It is a big step backwards on the road to the rule of law to which the Congolese people aspire”.

In addition to the incidents in Mbujimayi, the bishops highlight two other incidents in which the church and its leaders were directly attacked.

In an incident on July 31, Augustin Kabuya, general secretary of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress, accused Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo and Father Nshole of politicizing the church, among other allegations.

On August 1, a group of young people ransacked the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Kinshasa and the cardinal’s residence. They also shouted insults at the cardinal.

“Our pain is great because all these acts show hatred against the Catholic Church,” said Father Nshole.

Although the motive for the attacks is unknown, some observers believe it is linked to the research by religious groups of the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission. According to the constitution, the choice of the chairman of the electoral commission is the duty of religious leaders in this central African country, where the majority of Christians are Catholics.

A technical team, chosen by a Congolese forum of religious denominations, began screening the shortlisted candidates on July 27.

“Why blame CENCO when it advocates national cohesion? Why attack her when she defends the independence of the Independent Electoral Commission? It is only accomplishing its prophetic mission in the search for the well-being of the Congolese people, ”said Father Nshole, who is also spokesperson for the religious forum.

In June, an improvised bomb exploded in a Catholic church in Beni, killing one person and seriously injuring two others. The explosion happened as the church was preparing to organize the confirmation of the children.

Despite these attacks, the bishops asked their faithful to remain calm, reminding the people that violence kills democracy and replaces it with dictatorship.

Clerics also want the perpetrators of the violence to stop and the government to identify, arrest and punish those involved.