Four Congolese protesters were shot dead Feb. 25, during demonstrations organized by Catholics protesting President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down from power.
The casualties occurred just two days after a worldwide day of prayer and fasting for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, called for by Pope Francis.
An additional 47 people were wounded and more than 100 arrested in the Sunday protests, according to the United Nations mission in Congo.
Many of the demonstrations occurred in and around Catholic churches in the DRC. Some priests chose to hold protests within the parameters of their parish grounds to minimize violence.
“Security forces blocked the roads around the churches. They came in and threw tear gas canisters into churches. They used live ammunition,” Father Jean Claude Tabu, Curate of the St. Beno√Æt Parish in the north of Kinshasa, told La Croix. This is the third round of demonstrations organized by the Catholic Lay Committee. Previous protests on Dec. 31 and Jan. 21 left over a dozen dead.
“I note with sorrow and deep concern the loss of life and injuries that occurred at the hands of those who are supposed to protect life and the rule of law. I add my voice to that of the Holy Father in his call for calm and peace in the country,” wrote Archbishop Timothy Broglio, chair of U.S. Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, in a Feb. 14 letter to the bishops of Congo.
The Catholic church in the Democratic Republic of Congo has strongly advocated for free and fair elections in the country that has faced decades of political instability.
The Congolese Catholic Bishops' Conference have called upon President Kabila to state that he will not run for an illegal third term as president. Kabila was supposed to leave office in December 2016, but elections have been continually postponed.