Pope Francis paid tribute on Tuesday to the late Congolese Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, describing him as “a man of justice, peace, and unity.”

The pope, who is currently recuperating in hospital after undergoing colon surgery, sent a condolence telegram on July 13 following the 81-year-old cardinal’s death on Sunday.

“Attentive to the needs of the faithful, filled with courage and determination, Cardinal Monsengwo dedicated his life as a priest and bishop to the inculturation of the faith and to the preferential option for the poor,” the pope said in the message sent to Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, Monsengwo’s successor as archbishop of Kinshasa.

“In this way, he embodied the prophetic mission of the Church. A man of justice, peace, and unity, he has been deeply involved in integral human development in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

Monsengwo led the archdiocese of Kinshasa from 2008 until his retirement in 2018 at the age of 79. The archdiocese, which serves more than seven million Catholics, is based in the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The DRC is a central African country with a population of almost 87 million people, an estimated 35 million of whom are baptized Catholics.

The pope wrote: “Having learned with sadness of the death of Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, archbishop emeritus of Kinshasa, I send my deepest condolences to you and to his family, to the auxiliary bishops and to the faithful of the dioceses of Inongo, Kisangani, and Kinshasa, of which he was successively the pastor.”

“I ask the Father of all mercies to welcome in his peace and light this exegete, this man of science, this great spiritual man and this pastor intensely devoted to the service of the Church, wherever he was called.”

Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya was born on Oct. 7, 1939, in Mongobele, Mai-Ndombe Province. After beginning his priestly formation in Africa, he studied theology at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome. He was ordained as a priest of the diocese of Inongo, in western DRC, on Dec. 21, 1963.

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After further studies at the Pontifical Biblical Institute of Rome and of Jerusalem, he taught Sacred Scripture at the theological faculty in Kinshasa and at John XXIII Major Seminary.

In 1980, at the age of 40, he was named an auxiliary bishop of Inongo. A year later, he was appointed an auxiliary of Kisangani archdiocese in northeastern DRC.

In 1984, he was elected president of the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo. Four years later, he was named archbishop of Kisangani.

In 1991, Monsengwo chaired the Sovereign National Conference, a body that created a framework for the country’s political transition from the rule of Mobutu Sese Seko, who had led the country then known as Zaire since 1965.

While the process was interrupted by efforts to oust Mobutu, resulting in a protracted civil war, Monsengwo led the Church’s peacemaking efforts through negotiations, leading to the Inter-Congolese Dialogue (2001-2003) that ultimately contributed to the end of civil strife.

Monsengwo was named archbishop of Kinshasa on Dec. 6, 2007, and became a cardinal on Nov. 20, 2010.

In 2012, he preached the Lenten spiritual exercises for the Roman Curia at the invitation of Pope Benedict XVI. In the same year, he was named as one of three presidents-delegate of the synod of bishops on the new evangelization. Monsengwo also took part in the family synods of 2014 and 2015.

In 2013, Pope Francis named him as a member of the Council of Cardinal Advisers, a body advising the pope on Church governance and the revision of the apostolic constitution on the Roman Curia.

Monsengwo was flown to France for medical treatment days before his death in Versailles, in the western suburbs of Paris, on July 11.

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Local media report that the cardinal’s body will be repatriated to the DRC on July 19 and buried in Kinshasa’s Our Lady of the Congo Cathedral.

In his telegram, Pope Francis said: “Cardinal Monsengwo was a great and respected figure in the ecclesial, social and political life of the nation and was always committed to dialogue and reconciliation of his people. His contribution has been significant for the progress of the country.”

“A faithful and close collaborator in recent years, he has not ceased to make his contribution to the life of the universal Church.”

“As a token of comfort, I impart my apostolic blessing to you, to the auxiliary bishops, to the priests, to consecrated persons, to the family of the deceased cardinal and his loved ones, to the people of the diocese, and to all those who will take part in the celebration of the funeral.”