The solemn Eucharist of installation was presided by the Apostolic Nuncio to D. R. Congo, Archbishop Giovanni d’Aniello, and concelebrated by some fifty bishops and by more than 800 priests. Thousands of faithful from the Congolese capital and other parts of the country – especially Kisangani, were Monsengwo had served as archbishop for almost 20 years – attended the ceremony to welcome their new shepherd. During the welcoming celebrations, the new archbishop repeated several times the “motto” that summarizes his pastoral vision for the archdiocese: “Kinshasa, rise and shine with the light of Christ”.
Archbishop Monsengwo took the opportunity of his official entry as pastor of his new diocese to send an appeal to the groups still fighting in some areas of Eastern Congo. “Stop the conflict, he said, liberate peace at last. Promote a process of reconciliation in the truth.” That appeal was very much in line with Mons. Monsengwo’s long commitment to the work for peace and reconciliation in D. R. Congo and in the rest of Africa. He was, among other things, the driving force of the “Break the Silence – Peace for Africa” campaign set in motion by the Comboni Missionaries during the Jubilee Year of 2000.
Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya was born in Mongobele, Bandundu Province (D. R. Congo), on 7 October 1939. His family was one of the royal families of the Basakata and his own name, “Monsengwo”, means “grandson of the traditional chief”. In 1951, the young Monsengwo entered the minor seminary of Bokoro, Inongo diocese, where he remained until 1957. That year, he was sent to Kabwe Major Seminary for the philosophical studies (1957-1960). After that, he went to Rome to study theology at the Urbaniana Pontifical University.
On 21 December 1963, Laurent Monsegwo Pasinya was ordained priest in Rome for Inongo diocese by Cardinal P. Agagianian, then Prefect of the Congregation of Propaganda Fide. But the time of his return to Africa to exercise his ministry was still far off. His intelligence and disposition for studies had attracted the attention of his superiors. From 1964 to 1970, Monsengwo followed biblical studies at Rome’s Pontifical Biblical Institute from where he came out with the title of Doctor in Biblical Sciences; he was the first African to accomplish such a feat.
Back in Congo and after a few years of pastoral work and teaching at Kinshasa’s Faculty of Theology and at Jean XXIII Major Seminary, in 1976 Fr. Laurent Monsengwo was appointed Secretary General of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo.
On May 4 1980, Pope John Paul II – during his first apostolic trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo - consecrated him Auxiliary Bishop of Inongo. One year later, he left his native diocese to occupy the same position in Kisangani. On 1 September 1988, John Paul II chose him to lead that important archdiocese, where he remained for more than nineteen years. Besides his pastoral duties in Kisangani, Archbishop Monsengwo was called to hold positions of responsibility both in DR Congo and the African continent at large. In 1984, he was elected by the Congolese bishops to become president of their National Episcopal Conference. Mons. Monsengwo remained in that post until 1992 and in 2004 was again chosen to preside over that episcopal conference.
The Congolese Archbishop’s commitment to the Church, his intellectual capacity and his leadership qualities went not unnoticed among the bishops of the continent. In 1997, they elected him president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) for a period of six years, becoming the “de facto” leading figure of the Catholic Church in the African continent.
Monsengwo’s extensive knowledge and experience are put at the service of the universal Church in several positions within the Vatican organizations: He is a member of the Synod of Bishops, both the Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat and the Special Council for Africa of the General Secretariat; he is also a consultant to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and co-president of Pax Christi International.
Besides his many ecclesial responsibilities, Mons. Monsengwo had also to enter the political field in a critical moment for the life of his country. His sense of responsibility and his commitment to the service of the people made him accept the call to play a key role in the transition from the long dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko to a political democratic system in Congo. In 1991, Archbishop Monsengwo was elected president of the Sovereign National Conference, instituted to direct the way towards a new political, social and economic order in the country. From 1992 to 1994, he acted as president of the High Council of the Republic. In1994, Mons. Monsengwo was chosen speaker of the Republic’s Transitional Parliament, in charge of drafting a constitution and forming a transitional democratic government which would prepare general elections; he served in that position for a year.
In those years at the top of the political life of his country, the archbishop became convinced that a lasting peace in Congo could only be accomplished through dialogue among the different factions. His main concern as a national leader was to heal the wounds left by Mobutu’s 27 year long dictatorship and to promote reconciliation among all the Congolese.
Archbishop Monsengwo has not ceased to raise his voice in defence of human rights both in Congo and the rest of Africa. In his last Christmas homily as archbishop of Kisangani, last 25 of December, he made a passionate appeal for justice and peace in his country and the region of the Great Lakes: “It is not possible to live in truth in front of God and impose a whole people twelve years of useless war, that have had as a consequence the death of millions of persons and a structural impoverishment of the State and the population. A serious exam of collective conscience is urgently necessary in a concern for dialogue, truth, justice and peace, for respect of human life and for integral development of all the peoples of the sub-region”
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