The new archbishop of Kinshasa warned peace will be endangered if elections -- repeatedly delayed -- are not held Dec. 30.
Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, installed as archbishop of Kinshasa in late November, preached about peace and the elections during Christmas midnight Mass in the capital's Notre Dame Cathedral. Congolese President Joseph Kabila's presidential term expired in 2016; and elections have been delayed repeatedly.
The latest election was scheduled Dec. 23, but Congo's National Electoral Commission delayed it until Dec. 30 after 8,000 voting machines were destroyed in a fire in Kinshasa Dec. 13.
"Not to keep this promised date will be to work for the annihilation of peace," Archbishop Ambongo said. "The true peace which comes from Jesus Christ for our country today also requires the declared results truly reflect the will of the people, as expressed in the ballot."
"True peace, especially in this agitated electoral period, consists of opening oneself to others, overcoming differences, and engaging together for construction of a better future," he said. "True peace excludes egoism, regionalism, tribalism, separation and narrow categorizations."
He said Congo's population could be compared to the people of Israel, described by the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, when "the riches and treasures of their country were pillaged and exploited by foreigners," plunging them into "depths of total despair."
"Yet they still retained a strong glimmer of hope for a better tomorrow," said the archbishop, who serves as vice president of the national bishops' conference.
"Are we so far from what Israel itself experienced? Is it excessive to state that the Congolese people are also exiled in their own country? What humiliations, lack of vital necessities, what contempt for human dignity and the most fundamental rights."
The United Nations reports 4.5 million Congolese are displaced and a fifth of the mineral-rich country's population needs basic assistance. Although war officially ended in 2003, at least 70 armed groups are believed to be operating in Congo's mineral-rich eastern areas.
For the Dec. 30 election, the Catholic Church has pledged to deploy 40,000 observers.
In a Dec. 25 website message, the Congolese bishops' conference said it hoped Christmas would "bring light to a country and people long bruised by so much suffering," enabling the elections to mark "a key moment for our young democracy, opening a new page in the country's history."
Meanwhile, Bishop Donatien Bafuidinsoni of Inongo told Catholics the Christmas message would be about "breaking the yoke which weighed on the people, the rod which bruised its shoulders, and the tyrant's truncheon and the boots of soldiers striking the ground."
"God has seen how certain people have behave like Herod killing the innocents -- how hatred invades the hearts of men, how egotism, thirst for power, money and material goods lead some to kill and steal," Bishop Bafuidinsoni said in his Dec. 25 homily, which was published in full on the bishops' conference website.
"Offending and inflicting harm on mankind means offending and injuring God. Respect for God demands respect for mankind, for his life, his most fundamental rights, his dignity and freedom to live in peace and be happy always and everywhere."
Final election results are due to be announced Jan. 15, with a new president inaugurated Jan. 18.
However, the Electoral Commission said Dec. 26 it was delaying until March voting in the eastern cities of Beni and Butembo, which are affected by Ebola, as well as in the western town Yumbi, where more than 100 people were killed in pre-Christmas ethnic violence.