Archbishop Ettore Balestrero, Apostolic Nuncio to the Democratic Republic of Congo, shares his thoughts on Pope Francis’ Apostolic Journey to the Central African nation, saying the Church seeks to remain close to the plight of the Congolese people.
By Xavier Sartre – Kinshasa, DRC
Archbishop Ettore Balestrero has been the Apostolic Nuncio to DR Congo since 2018. He previously served in South Korea, Mongolia and the Netherlands before working in the Secretariat of State. In 2009, he was promoted to the position of Under-Secretary for Relations with States before being appointed Nuncio to Colombia in 2013. In 2018, he returned to Kinshasa where he succeeded Archbishop Luis Mariano Montemayor.
Speaking to Vatican News’ Xavier Sartre, the Archbishop describes the organisation behind the Pope’s Apostolic Journey to DRC. He says that despite the numerous challenges, “the joy of the faithful is so great that everything becomes easier: The dream has become reality,” he adds.
Noting that the country is in a crisis and that the Pope will be meeting with victims of the violence in the country, “this is an important moment to invite the Congolese to turn the page, to be reconciled.”
Urging people to make space for God in their own lives is one of the messages the Pope is bringing to the DRC, Archbishop Balestrero continues. Another important message, he continues, is to all Congolese, saying that “change is in their hands”.
Then, the Archbishop adds, “there is also an important message for the international community, to whom he will no doubt say, ‘You cannot forget the Democratic Repoublic of Congo, because there is a moral urgency: people cannot be neglected and cannot be forgotten.'”
People of DRC
“The Congolese are waiting for a message that can guide them in living their faith,” continues the Archbishop.
He notes that the country Pope Francis will find is a very different one to the one visited by Pope Saint John Paul II 37 years ago.
“Measures must be taken” in order to reconcile, but mostly, “the river of hatred, the river of revenge, must flow into a much larger ocean, like the Congo River flows into the Atlantic Ocean. And it is the ocean of reconciliation that allows people to look at each other with different eyes, to build together with respect for each other. The future is to be shared in good and in bad,” says the Archbishop.
Church in DRC
Speaking about the difficulties the Church in DRC is facing, Archbishop Balestrero notes that “the main difficulty is to ensure that we have a real, personal relationship with Jesus Christ, that He enters into the life of each person, that He is not just a theoretical reference or a kind of superstition.”
The Church in DRC, he adds, can share a host of gifts “on several levels” with the universal Church.
“First of all,” he says, “at the level of the faithful, it teaches us that we can live on the cross without despairing, without dramatising and discovering faith, not as an anaesthetic, but as the true answer to overcome the dramas that crucify us: the Church in Congo can teach the universal Church the joy of expressing faith, especially in the liturgy,” he explains.
He notes that this Church also teaches us “to be concrete, not to get lost in polemics fat from the real needs of life, of faith and of joy.”
Realities in the Goma region
Bringing his interview to a close, the Apostolic Nuncio to the Democratic Republic of Congo highlights the devastating reality surrounding the violence in the country, and in particular, in the Goma region.
“The tragedy is that there are 500,000 displaced people, 250,000 of whom live around Goma,” says Archbishop Balestrero. “They need food, they need clothes. Many of them are on the road and have died. There are diseases that are developing, such as a cholera epidemic.”
The Archbishop assures that even in this dreadful context, “the Church remains there, the priests and the sisters do not abandon their posts.”
Finally, the Archbishop bears witness to the wonderful work done by religious men and women in the area.
In particular, he recalls the determination of a group of sisters living and working in an area now controlled by milita group M23. Despite being asked to evacuate and abandon the hospital they were working in so as to take refuge, they stayed.
Archbishop Balestrero praised the nuns for saying, “‘If we leave the hospital, people here will die because there are women who need to give birth, there are patients who need to be treated.’ This community is made up of a Polish sister, Sister Agnes, a Congolese sister and a Rwandan sister,” recalls the Archbishop.
“The three of them are a prophecy for the Congo, because they are doing together what the Congolese are not able to do,” he says.