Wednesday afternoon on the outskirts of Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa joined the Congolese people in saying farewell to one of her beloved musicians, the legendary King of Congolese Rumba, Papa Wemba.
The Archbishop of Kinshasa, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo led the country in mourning Papa Wemba during a funeral Mass. According to Congolese media, the Cardinal hailed Papa Wemba as a brave musician and a very religious person.
“For three days, as one nation, the Congolese population, Africa, and the world have mourned the father of Congolese Rumba," Cardinal Monsengwo is reported to have said in French. The Bishop of Tshumbe Diocese and President of the Episcopal Conférence Nationale du Congo, Nicolas Djomo Lola described Papa Wemba as “a worthy son of Congo and citizen of the world.”
Reports from media in Congo say family members, six Bishops over Catholic fifty priests, senior government officials and diplomats converged at the Notre Dame Cathedral of Kinshasa to pay their last respects to a national icon. Many citizens tearfully followed the ceremony on the streets or in their homes.
Other media reports from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, said thousands upon thousands of Congolese citizens lined the route that transported Papa Wemba’s last remains for burial at the Necropole Entre Terre et Ciel cemetery, outside Kinshasa.
Papa Wemba, 66, was born Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba in June 1949 in Lubefu, then Belgian Congo. He collapsed and died on stage in Abidjan, Ivory Coast on 24 April. He died doing what he loved the most: Performing on stage.
Earlier in the week, at a ceremony held in the national parliament, where the body of Papa Wemba lay in state for three days, the Congolese government led by President Joseph Kabila, posthumously awarded Papa Wemba with one of the country’s highest honours. He was commended for the ‘merits and eminent services rendered to the Congolese nation.’
The Holy See, through its spokesperson, Father Federico Lombardi has also paid glowing tribute to Papa Wemba, a Catholic, for rendering his voice to promote the message of reconciliation through his songs composed for the Church. With Angola’s folk and Semba music singer, Bonga; the group Fifito from Guinea led by Vatican Radio employee Filomeno Lopes, Papa Wemba recorded a CD compilation album titled, 'Afrika tenda amani' which in KiSwahili encourages Africans to act for peace.
Father Lombardi, the former Director General of Vatican Radio who worked with Papa Wemba on the music projects said he was shocked and saddened by the musician’s death. Fr. Lombardi made the remarks in an interview with Vatican Radio’s Fr. Jean-Pierre Bodjoko, who is head of the French Africa Service.
Fr. Lombardi said he had known and met Papa Wemba in the context of the Second African Synod of Bishops (2009), which focused on Justice, Peace, and Reconciliation. As Director General of Vatican Radio and working together with Vatican Radio’s Africa departments, Papa Wemba helped promote the messages of the Second African Synod through the production and broadcast of African music.
"We thought that to effectively get the message of the Bishops gathered in the African Synod to the African people, it was not enough to write beautiful documents, with long discussions and explanations of the doctrine of Church. We found it necessary to use another effective way to get to the heart of the people of Africa with the primary message of Justice, Peace, and Reconciliation. And so we found that such a message could pass through music, through songs, which is an important dimension of many of Africa’s cultures. It is within this framework that we called some African artistes, especially Papa Wemba, to help us,” said Fr. Lombardi.
According to Fr. Lombardi, Papa Wemba was always available and ready to work with the iniatives proposed by Vatican Radio.
“We asked Papa Wemba, and other musicians to produce a compilation CD, an album with songs they would compose just to get the message of Justice, Peace and Reconciliation. They were original songs inspired by the trilogy of ‘Justice, Peace and Reconciliation.’ Afterwards, we produced many copies of this CD and sent it to all the Catholic dioceses in Africa after the Synod meeting had ended.” Then, continues Fr. Lombardi, “We finally organised in Cotonou, Bénin, a concert, on an open stage (18 November 2011 at René Pleven d'Akpakpa Stadium in Cotonou, Bénin). The show was held on the day of the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI in Bénin during which visit the Pope would officially promulgate the post-synodal exhortation document (known as Africae Munus) at a special Mass,” Fr. Lombardi said.
Papa Wemba, says Fr. Lombardi, “was very helpful, very friendly. I have excellent memories of my meetings with him; his availability. He was very happy to contribute to a project that would benefit the people. "
The Holy See's spokesman also recalled the time when opportunity was given to Papa Wemba and his wife, Mama-Marie Lozolo Amazone, to meet personally with Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican.
"It was a beautiful day; it was wonderful. He was very happy and he did not fail to express gratitude. But it was also for us a way to express our appreciation for what he had done for us, with us and for the Church," said Father Lombardi adding that he remained grateful to Papa Wemba and had kept good memories of him and friendship with him.” He adds, "And of course the news of his death touches us deeply. But we are happy to have made with him significant initiatives for Africa because the songs he performed for Vatican Radio and thus for the Church bear a message that will last continuously. Singing for Peace, Justice and Reconciliation is to sing for a better world; a reconciled world in which Africa is invited to live joyfully. In fact, not only Africa but the whole world, " emphasised Father Lombardi.
(Fr. Paul Samasumo, Vatican Radio)
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