Bernard Ugeux, testimony

Bernard Ugeux, a priest at the service of women victims of rape in the DRC

In Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo, Father Bernard Ugeux, Missionary of Africa, devotes part of his time to helping women victims of rape. Testimony.

“If you want to destroy a society destroy women, it is they who transmit traditions, who are the unifying force of the family, who protect the children…”

Bernard Ugeux is a priest, of the community of Missionaries of Africa, also called White Fathers. For the past ten years, he has lived in Bukavu, where he devotes much of his time to welcoming, accompanying and reintegrating women survivors of conflict in Eastern DRC. Women who have often been kidnapped, raped and mutilated by armed gangs. Bukavu is also where Dr. Denis Mukwege, a gynaecologist who treats women who have been raped, who received the Nobel Peace Prize, and with whom Bernard Ugeux is linked, practices.

RAPE, A WEAPON OF WAR

Why are there people who have a good life and others we think it is not possible for people to experience such things? “I have to live with this question mark,” says Bernard Ugeux. For him, evil is not even in the order of mystery but in the order of enigma. “You have to let God be God, I won’t have the answer, I see that Jesus doesn’t give an explanation, he gives an answer: compassion, indignation, love, justice.”

During conflicts, rape is intended to destroy, it is a real strategy, we even talk about a weapon of war. “After that people are completely upset, the social fabric, culture, religion, etc. are destroyed.” It may be done by militias, a village is surrounded at night, women are raped in front of children and husbands who are forced to attend the scene. Girls are taken away as sex slaves.

HOW TO HELP WOMEN VICTIMS OF RAPE?

“The first question for all the victims is, will anyone believe me?” So, what Father Ugeux does is to listen to them, and to listen to them “in a way that makes them hear that I believe in what they say”. Then have them think that “despite all the negative feelings they have about themselves, they are still valuable”. Despite their “feeling of guilt, of defilement, of having lost their dignity, of no longer having a place in society”. Some are rejected by their families or husbands.

Father Ugeux is not a doctor nor a psychologist. But he knows Africa well and has a long experience of spiritual accompaniment. What he finds is that the women who come to him “seek less to be complained or comforted than to find a place in society”. The Nyota centre, which he runs, welcomes 250 young girls during the day. For three years they learn a trade. And little by little, “we see them regain their autonomy and their joie de vivre, their reasons for existing”. This is thanks to the network of friends of the White Fathers, who send money. Without them, he could not do “anything”.

HOW TO BELIEVE IN GOD AFTER THAT?

Since he was 11 years old, Bernard Ugeux has had “Africa at heart”: ever since a Congolese bishop came to testify in the Jesuit school where he was studying. “When I graduated from high school I hesitated between doctor and priest, finally I turned to the White Fathers and the medical dimension always accompanied me.” His struggle is similar to Jacob’s, in the Bible, a struggle against the mystery of evil, against himself. He says, “Faith, at times, is a decision.”

What keeps him going? Prayer, every morning he devotes 45 minutes to the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. In the evening he says to God, “You are the Saviour, not me.” What also helps him is to live in community with six other White Fathers. And to see “people who are resurrecting”. For example, during the women’s festival on March 8, which is “very important in the centre”, during the traditional fashion show, “you have to see these girls marching with pride, that’s what keeps you going”. Impressed by the “resilience capacity” of women in Africa, he still keeps “deep down this anger of seeing how badly governments work and authorities abuse”.

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