The Archbishop of Kinshasa has urged politicians to preserve national unity and practice leadership as service ahead of upcoming elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, O.F.M. Cap., made the comments during an open-air Mass on the feast of Christ the King.

Addressing a crowd of several thousand, including two major presidential candidates, Ambongo said that “Christ the King delivers us a prophetic message--power is a service, humble services to others for their accomplishment,” as he denounced sectarianism and political violence.

Ambongo was installed as Archbishop of Kinshasa three weeks ago, replacing Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, who also serves as a member of Pope Francis’ C9 Council of Cardinal Advisors.

Among those in the crowd were rival presidential candidates Martin Fayulu and Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.

Shadary, a self-described “fervent Christian” and practicing Catholic, has stated that he has “placed his campaign in God’s hands.” Shadary is also the preferred candidate and would-be successor of outgoing President Joseph Kabila.

Fayulu, a leading opposition candidate, attends a Protestant church.

The vote, scheduled for 23 December, would see the first new leadership in the Congo since President Joseph Kabila acceded to office in 2001.

President Kabila has been the subject of protest and criticism from the general population and from Church leaders. This year, 15 people were killed while attending peaceful, Church-organized rallies against the government.

Despite crackdowns on Church events by the current administration, the Congolese bishops have declined to endorse a specific candidate. Instead, they said they have expressed hope for “credible elections for a real democratic alternative,” and for a leader that would “respect fundamental laws,” be a man of his word,” and not exploit Congo’s natural resources.

Joseph Kabila came to power 17 years ago at the age of 29, following the assassination of the previous incumbent, President Laurent-Désiré Kabila, his father. He was reelected in 2006 and 2011.

In 2012, the country’s 35 bishops condemned the recent election results as subject to “serious errors,” and having been rife with “treachery, lies, and terror.” Cardinal Pasinya called for the results to be annulled and for Congolese to engage in acts of civil disobedience in protest.

Barred by the Congolese constitution from seeking election a third time, Kabila was set to leave office in December 2016, following the election of his successor. That election, originally scheduled for November 2016, has been successively postponed by government authorities, resulting in widespread civil unrest.

Since that time, Kabila has remained in power.

Approximately 40 percent of the population of the central African nation is Catholic. Since becoming an independent country in 1960, there has never been a peaceful transition of power in the Democratic Republic of Congo.