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Bishops meet, pray, with president of Congo

11/7/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

Photographs are available.

By United Methodist News Service

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Joseph Kabila (left), president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, speaks with a delegation from the United Methodist Council of Bishops during a Nov. 6 meeting in Washington. At right is Bishop Felton May. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose. Photo number 03-435, Accompanies UMNS #540, 11/7/03

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
United Methodist Bishops Fama Onema (left) and Felton May (right) pray with Joseph Kabila, president of the Democratic Republic of Congo. A delegation from the United Methodist Council of Bishops met with Kabila, 32, during the council's Nov. 2-7 gathering in Washington. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose. Photo number 03-434, Accompanies UMNS #540, 11/7/03
WASHINGTON (UMNS) - The 32-year-old president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is asking United Methodist bishops to help his impoverished and war-torn nation as he moves to bring peace and, eventually, free elections to his people.

Thirteen bishops, including three from the Congo, met with President Joseph Kabila during the Council of Bishops' six-day semiannual meeting in the Washington Area. Kabila was in the U.S. capital to meet with President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell and executives from international development organizations.

Between prayers offered by the bishops, Kabila offered a frank assessment of conditions in the African country, where more than 1 million United Methodists live. He stated his commitment to change in the nation as it emerges from a six-year war in which millions of Congolese died.

"The will of people is the will of God. It is the will of the people to live in peace with their neighbors. Hearing this, who was I to go against the will of God?" said Kabila, who became president in 2001 after the assassination of his father, President Laurent Kabila.

The elder Kabila had ruled since overthrowing dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997. War erupted soon afterward, with surrounding countries taking sides in the brutal fighting. Nearly 11,000 U.N. peacekeepers are working to maintain a fragile peace.

Speaking softly in English from a single page of notes, Kabila said the Congo needs to be a priority for the worldwide United Methodist Church.

"The Methodist Church is found on each and every corner. It is very, very active," Kabila told the bishops. He outlined his top priorities: economic development, the fight against a fearsome epidemic of HIV/AIDS, and the movement to elections and a democratic government.

"Congo should become a priority area. It should be a priority in your prayers (and) in your social concern," Kabila said.

He asked the church to help him improve health care throughout the country. "We hope to make sure that a pregnant woman won't have to walk 100 kilometers to a medical center. Bring the medical center to her."

Kabila said he seeks ensure "that no single Congolese will go to bed without eating. No father of children will be unable to send his children to school… AIDS is like a war, but we cannot sign a cease-fire. We cannot afford to lose this particular battle."

Bishop Fama Onema of the Central Congo Area opened the meeting and said Kabila is committed to "peace, reconciliation and unity in our country." Congolese bishops Nkulu Ntambo of the North Katanga Area and Kainda Katembo of the Southern Congo Area, sat a few feet away.

Kabila told bishops he is committed to a peace process that will lead to elections, but cautioned that he is walking a difficult road. "It's one thing to talk of peace. It's another to make peace last…With 50 million people with differences, it is important that they sit around the table and talk with each other. This is a process because six years of war cannot be healed in four months."

"When I think of peace in the Congo, I think of the verse in the Bible, 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall inherit the kingdom of God.' This was the driving force for the peace process in the Congo," Kabila said.

Bishop Felton Edwin May, bishop of the Washington Area and host of the council's meeting, responded to the president's remarks, saying Kabila offered a "careful, clear message, stated with dignity and wisdom. … The people of Congo have put their trust in God, their faith, in you."

The meeting concluded with a prayer by Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher of the Illinois Area, immediate past president of the council. "We know the peacemakers are blessed," she said, and she thanked God for Kabila's "vision of stability, reconciliation, development and health."

The United Methodist Committee on Relief is responding to needs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo through UMCOR Advance No. 982353, "Global Peacebuilding and Reconciliation." Contributions can be dropped in church offering plates or sent to the agency at 475 Riverside Drive, Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Credit-card donors can call (800) 554-8583.

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