Père Frans Verresen (1927 – 2018) (PE nr 1091 – 2018/05)

Frans was born on the 19th August 1927 in Antwerp, Belgium. His father was a carpenter and his mother sold bread. Frans attended the College Saint-Jean-Berchmans in Antwerp for the first part of his secondary education but completed his schooling at the College Saint-Joseph at Alost because, during the second half of World War II, German VI and V2 missiles constantly threatened the city of Antwerp. Frans was a member of the KSA, a Catholic student organisation, and he was a chorister at the Cathedral. In September 1945, he entered the White Fathers at Boechout for Philosophy followed by his novitiate in Varsenare. His first year of theology was spent in Marienthal, Luxemburg and he completed his studies in Heverlee. He took his Missionary Oath there on the 29th July 1951 followed by ordination to the priesthood on the 12th April 1952. His teachers saw Frans as being friendly, without any airs and graces. He was a conscientious worker and well balanced. “He makes no noise, is discreet and reserved, a little shy even.” He was always ready to render a service and tactful in his relationships. He was a good organiser and it was remarked of him, “He will be an excellent leader, firm but understanding.” He had solid religious convictions and it was also noted that he excelled at working with young people. After his ordination, he was sent to Louvain (Francophone) to study for a university degree. In 1956, he graduated with a “Licence en Sciences Pédagogiques et en Orientation Professionnelle.”

On the 10th October 1956, Frans flew off to the Congo. He began as curate and director of schools at Shabunda in the Diocese of Kasongo. A year later, we find him in Kasongo itself and from July 1958 he was the inspector of schools while being headmaster in a secondary school at the same time. In March 1961, the troubles surrounding Congolese independence forced a return to Belgium. He did the Long Retreat in Villa Cavaletti before returning, in December 1961, to the Congo where he was appointed to the junior seminary of Mungombe where he taught Latin, History, and Religion. In July 1963, Frans returned to Shabunda at teacher of Religion at the High School there. In July 1964, the rebellion led by Pierre Mulele forced Frans once more to leave the Congo. For a year, he taught some courses for ‘late’ vocations at Thy-le-Château. In July 1965, he did a updating course in catechesis at Lumen Vitae which was a real turning point in his life.

Frans returned to the Congo in July 1966 and joined the “Centre interdiocésain de catéchèse” in Bukavu. However another rebellion, this time led by Jean Schramme, and the capture of Bukavu meant another hurried departure for Europe. In Belgium, he occupied himself by working in missionary promotion and preaching retreats. Nevertheless, he returned to Shabunda in June 1968 and taught Education at the College Don Bosco. In 1971, he was appointed the Diocesan Director of Catechesis at Kasongo and he founded the Catechetical Centre of Itemene in 1972. In 1980, Frans is curate in Kakutya but in 1983, he returned to the Catechetical Centre now to be found in Kinkungwa. During the troubles of 1991, Frans was once again evacuated from the Congo and gave a helping hand to the confreres working in the Parish of the Sacred Heart in Antwerp. A few months later he returned to Kinkungwa. In October 1993, he was given the responsibility of the spiritual formation of the Franciscan Sisters at Sola. Frans again had to leave hurriedly for Belgium in March 1997 but by August we find him back again in Formulac Hospital near Bukavu as chaplain. His last substantive appointment brought him to the Parish of Katuba-Sainte Bernadette in the Archdiocese of Lubumbashi.

In Lubumbashi, Frans quickly became the reference point in all that pertained to catechesis. He was responsible for the training of all the volunteer catechists of the 40 parishes of the city. Every year, he organised numerous sessions for them The Archbishop had full confidence in the White Fathers method of evangelisation and all the parishes had to follow a 3 to 4 year catechumenate. Although Frans had never been Parish Priest, he was an excellent educator and teacher. In the Parish of Sainte-Bernadette, he was an enthusiastic preacher of the 3 day retreat for catechumens during Holy Week. The sermons of “Baba” Frans were really appreciated, not only for their contents but also for the beautiful language. He loved the Congolese rite, and sang it with gusto and a loud voice, even dancing. The Bible courses he gave to the novices of the Soeurs de St-Joseph were much appreciated as well as his courses at the Soeurs de Ste-Ursule. Frans was always ready to do the bidding of his parish priest whether it be presiding at celebrations here and there, administer the last sacraments, or visiting the sick. He did all this on foot sometimes covering lengthy distances. It was only when he reached 80 years that he began to use public transport or accepted to be driven somewhere as he had never driven himself. The people were delighted to meet him on the road and to stop for a chat. He was also a big helper of the poor. In 2010, he wrote in “Kerk en Leven”: “The obscenely rich roam the streets in their gleaming cars, but in the poor neighbourhoods there is a lot of misery.”

On the 12th June 2014, the Provincial Council of PAC decided that it would be better that Frans return definitively to Belgium. He opted to return home to Antwerp. He was not in great shape but it seemed that he was not aware of his state of health. A few months later, those in charge thought that a move to Avondrust (Varsenare) was imperative. Frans took all this with true resignation, all the time wondering why he was no longer in Africa! He read big books and listened to well-known operas while singing along and keeping the beat. However, he was becoming more and more breathless and his general state of health continued to decline. He died at the hospital of Saint-Jean at Bruges on Friday morning, 9th March 2018. The farewell liturgy took place in Varsenare on the 14th March 2018 in the presence of many confreres. May he rest in peace.

Jef Vleugels, M.Afr.

Père Maurice Callant (1920 – 2018) (PE nr 1091 – 2018/05)

Maurice was born on the 14th July 1920 at Oudenaarde, Diocese of Gent, in the Province of East Flanders, Belgium. He came from a middle class family background. His mother was headmistress of a secondary school and his older brother was a diocesan priest. Initially, Maurice attended the secondary school run by the Josephite Fathers at Grammont and he finished in the Notre-Dame College in Oudenaarde. In May 1941, he sent a tiny little card to the superior of Boechout with just one sentence, “I wish to be part of the Society of the White Fathers.” He joined the following September. The war going on at the time had a considerable influence on his formation. He did his novitiate in Sainte-Croix near Bruges from 1943-44 because Varsenare had been requisitioned by the occupying German forces. He studied theology in Heverlee from 1944 to 1946 and in Marienthal from 1946 to 1948. He took his Missionary Oath in Heverlee on the 6th April 1947 followed by ordination to the priesthood, also in Heverlee, on the 29th March 1948.

During his years of training, Maurice was described as having his heart in the right place, very generous and always ready to be of service. He had a deep piety. Nobody described him as a great intellectual but his kind heartedness made up for a lot. Of an even and calm character, he always seemed to be in a good mood. He was an unassuming and social man. He liked manual work and he was reliable.

Maurice was appointed to Burundi and flew off with Sobelair on the 15th September 1948. His first posting was to Makamba in the Diocese of Gitega. As was customary at the time, he began as curate and he was put in charge of the primary schools while learning the local language in his ‘spare’ time. Fr. Benoît Hellemans (+1968), Regional of Burundi at the time, remarked that Maurice had problems grasping the nuances of the language at the beginning but thanks to his tenacity he would certainly succeed. Maurice’s devotion to expanding the school network began to bear fruit. At the end of 1955, Maurice was one of the co-founders of Gisuru. He had an extraordinary capacity for remembering names of people. Fr. Alfons Van Hoof (+1979) then Regional wrote in April 1956, “He is unflappable and is extremely patient. He is doing good just by his amiability and the fact that he knows everybody.” After his first home leave during which he did the Long Retreat in Mours, Maurice returned to Makamba in 1959. However, he was only there for two years as, in March 1961, he became Parish Priest and founder of Martyazo in the Diocese of Bururi. His regional like so many others noted, “A great worker, common sense, never gets carried away, has his two feet on the ground. He walks like a man of the earth, slow and strong. He does not get angry, does not get impatient. He seems to have things under control at the mission and the people respect him.” Maurice took time out in 1966 for some recycling at the Missions Étrangères de Paris on Rue du Bac. He returned to Makamba but only to prepare a new foundation at Mabanda where he moved to in August 1967 not only as Parish Priest but as Dean. Fr. Louis Quintard (+2012), the Regional said this election as Dean embarrassed him. Maurice, who had just turned 50, wanted to introduce a number of pastoral reforms but this was difficult as so few new confreres were coming. Maurice was always very respectful towards the political authorities, something which did not please all the confreres, but in so doing, he always had the good of the parish in mind. He remained at Mabanda until his home leave in 1976. When he returned, he became superior at Rutana where he worked until 1984. During his home leave in that year, he did the Session/Retreat in Jerusalem. In 1985, he was appointed to Masango in the Diocese of Bubanza.

Like so many other missionaries, Maurice was expelled from Burundi on the 19th October 1986. He commented, “Thanked for my services to Burundi since 1948.” He added these words to a form that he had filled out at the office of the Provincial in Bruxelles. Apart from that, we have not found any ‘official’ letter from him in the archives. There was no written communications or anything about the life he lived. Extreme discretion? In the Flash-Burundi, a confrere testified, “Maurice finished his apostolic ministry in Burundi in the same way that he had carried it out for nearly 40 years: discretely, modestly and profoundly. He was an experienced Parish Priest who knew how to steer his parishes of Mabanda and Rutana through all sorts of dangers with an enlightened zeal. Southern man from the Mosso (Gisuru), Maurice has something to thank the Lord for, because of all the good that has been achieved through his apostolic ministry. No one doubts that his gift of wisdom will help him find his place wherever he is sent.”

Thanks to the intervention of Ward Schoofs (+2017) who had been thanked already for his services in 1985 by the regime of President Bagaza, Maurice was immediately appointed chaplain to the ‘Heiderust’ home in Genk by Mgr. Dupas, Vicar-General of the Diocese of Hasselt. He served there for nearly 14 years and as he had done in Burundi he showed himself to be friendly, kind, modest, attentive and always ready to be of service. In 1991, his sister, Elizabeth died at Renaix and in 1994, his elder brother/priest died at Alorst. In 1999, Maurice went off to Rome to attend the beatification of Fr. Edward Poppe. At the end of 2000, Maurice decided to retire and resigned from his post as chaplain. Jef Vleugels, Provincial, proposed he go the community at Katelijnevest in Bruges which he accepted with joy. At the beginning of March 2004, he asked to join the community of elders at the Kasteel, in Varsenare. He spent many tranquil years here, always faithful to himself, listening to the conversations, laughing often in his beard, intervening rarely but always timely. He stubbornly continued to walk, firstly with a stick and then with a walking frame because he absolutely did not want to be transferred to Avondrust. Typical Maurice! In the night of the 9th and 10th February 2018, he fell. He died quietly later that afternoon, discretely as he had lived his life. We buried him on Thursday 15th February surrounded by his family, many friends, religious and his confreres.

Jef Vleugels, M.Afr.

Jean-Marie Provost (1922 – 2017) (PE nr 1091 – 2018/05)

Jean-Marie was born on the 17th October 1922 at Bourbourg in the Diocese of Lille. Soon afterwards, his family (he was the eldest of 10 children) moved to the Paris region. He followed his secondary school education at the Minor Seminary of Conflans.

Jean began his White Father journey in October 1941 at Thibar in Tunisia. However, the war interrupted his studies and he was called up for military service in November 1942. He first served in the Chantiers de Jeunesse (a paramilitary organisation in Vichy France). However when the Americans landed in Algeria in 1943, he was called-up to fight, this time, for the Free French forces. He received some training in aeronautics in Algeria before being sent to England for further training in a Heavy Bomber Squadron. After the war, he entered our novitiate in Maison-Carrée near Algiers in September 1946. The following year, he found himself once again in Thibar for theological studies. He took his Missionary Oath there on the 27th June 1950 before moving on to Carthage for his final year of studies. He was ordained priest there on the 24th March 1951.

Jean-Marie had asked for an appointment to an English speaking country and he was sent to Ghana in West Africa where he was to work for the next 36 years. His first mission was Kaleo in the present day diocese of Wa and he arrived there in December 1951. However, he only stayed there for two years before he was appointed to Nandom in the country of the Dagara. He courageously got down to learning the language. Other appointments followed; Kaleo (1957), Damongo (1958) and Nandom again in February 1959. In September 1959, he was appointed to Ko and a year later to Tumu with the task of founding a new mission. The project was started in 1960 and he was the man in charge of the construction of the post and the work of evangelisation. His next appointment was to France to undertake missionary promotion work while based at rue Friant. He had to wait till 1967 before he saw Ghana again. He followed the Long Retreat at Villa Cavalletti in May 1966 before returning to Ko in 1967. He subsequently served in Hamile (1973) and Nandom (1979) and Fielmon, (a new foundation, 1982) and Lassia-Tuolu (1987) in Wa Diocese. This sequence of appointments was only possible because those in charge knew that they could count on the apostolic enthusiasm of Jean-Marie and his ease at meeting new faces, a certain facility at learning new languages but above all his great availability.

Unfortunately serious back problems seriously impaired his mobility. He had to take to his bed for six weeks at one stage. During his home leave in 1988 and after consulting doctors, he was advised to remain in France. This was difficult for him to accept. He spent some time as guest master at Angers and Lyon. He did the Session/Retreat in Jerusalem in 1989 before accepting a pastoral appointment in Fréjus. He felt at home right from the start and soon won the hearts of his parishioners. For four years, he took part in the different services of the parish while following strictly the recommendation of the doctors who prescribed a lot of walking, cycling and swimming. He was known by all parents and children who liked to see him running through the village with his appearance a tad like a Parisian street ragamuffin, which opened a good number of doors. People liked his Sunday sermons delivered without embellishments where he tried to make the link between the Gospel and the daily life of his flock. When he was appointed as superior to our house in Nantes in 1993, his departure was very much regretted by the people of the Var region.

For the next six years, Jean-Marie welcomed, with his customary cheerfulness, many confreres passing through Nantes. However, he missed pastoral work and when the opportunity arose, he was very happy to go to Maisons-Alfort for two years parish work. However, his health began to get worse and this forced a move to a retirement home. Initially, he stayed in Bry-sur-Marne in 2001 before moving to Billère in 2015. In these two houses, he was able to receive treatment and to walk a bit. Moreover, his radiant joyfulness and simplicity won the esteem of all. He also looked forward every year to participating at a big family reunion which brought together his many brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces. He loved them all as they in their turn surrounded him with their affection. And indeed they were numerous attending his funeral some coming from far away to say in one way or another how much they appreciated their “uncle”

Jean-Marie returned to the Father’s house on the 31st October 2017. He was 95 years old. Nobody doubted that the Lord Jesus whom he had loved so much and served so faithfully in Ghana and France would have shown him straightaway the place reserved for the good and faithful servants. Thank you, Jean-Marie for your kindness always tinged with a bit of humour and for the cheerfulness that you spread all around you.

Michel Groiselle, M.Afr.


Mgr Benoist de Sinety, « Il faut que des voix s’élèvent » Accueil des migrants, Un appel au courage, Flammarion, 2018, 132 pages, 12 €

The author is the Vicar General of the Paris Archdiocese. In his book he invites us to have a realistic look, without compromising our principles, at the multicultural society of today which has always been multicultural and will be in the future. He wants to shake our passivity or lethargy regarding these new migrants who are flocking to our shores.

Bishop de Sinety invites us not to lock ourselves into a longing for the ‘good old days’, which never existed because our continent has always been a land of constant coalescing (p. 35). We should not fantasise about an illusory national unity (p. 79). We are faced with a national problem and we look to our leaders and/or experts to explain to us the high stakes involved. We have what he calls “forecasters” (crystal ball gazers) and very often these people offer us a narrative which constricts and shrivels our hearts instead of encouraging us to grow. They have neither vision nor values to present to us (p. 50). Most of their speeches are just electioneering promises based on opinion polls (p. 82).

Therefore, we need to break out from our society and its scandalously indecent overconsumption (p. 67). We should not create a pecking order between our ‘native’ poor whom we know and the migrants who come knocking at our doors (p. 65). Think of all the psychological back up we hasten to offer to those who have suffered some unusual event, and what do we do for those migrants who have endured a very frightening journey? (p. 109). What we do, in fact, is to subcontract this work to some humanitarian associations.

So, what should we be doing? The author asks us “to open our arms and to open our hearts.” He presents us with the orientations of the Catholic Church and especially, in four pages, the 21 suggestions of Pope Francis. He does not explain each of these suggestions as such, but his text could serve as a basis for group discussion or sharing in an organisation.

All through the book some fundamental convictions are stated. Here are some that we could remember:

“Solidarity takes precedence over the law” (p. 93)

“For an individual, the ethics of (personal) conviction must prevail” (p. 126).

“Public opinion cannot be superior to personal opinions” (p. 118)

This a book based on the French experience but it has a much wider application and will not leave anyone indifferent no matter what community they live in.

Gilles Mathorel, M.Afr.

Brother Leon Lwanga: Companion to the first missionaries in Uganda (PE nr 1091 – 2018/05)

This is an appreciative memory of Brother Leon Lwanga. He played a remarkable role at  the beginning of evangelisation in his native country, Uganda. He was of enormous help to the first missionaries in difficult and particularly unfavourable conditions. He helped the missionaries to lay the foundations of the first Christian communities. It is very unlikely that the first Missionaries of Africa, received in audience by King Mutesa on the 27th June 1878, could have imagined that one of the members of the King’s Royal Guard was going to join them so soon. And yet, all our missionary confreres who passed through Algiers in the 1890s remembered Bro. Leon Lwanga, son of a chief from the Baganga peninsula. He was a member of the Royal Guard. In fact, the first catechumens came from the Royal Guard and the pages in the court of the King. They were, for the most part, young noblemen placed at the service of the King for military training and for service in the royal palace.

When asked by one missionary, if he had seen Henry Morton Stanley (around 1875) on his travels to find the source of the Nile, Bro. Leon Lwanga replied, “Yes, I was taking part in a raid against the Bavuma, but I was not yet able to handle a spear.” This would mean that Leon Lwanga would have been about 15 years old when Stanley passed through Uganda giving him a date of birth around 1860. While still a child, he left the family home and entered the service of King Mutesa. A study of his life gives the impression that the contact with the first missionaries (circa 1880) and the newly baptised Christians created a small space within him to which he was much attached and which no one should ever question. Even though he was not yet baptised, he became permanently attached to the missionaries around 1882.

In October 1884, King Mutesa died. The new Kabaka was his son Mwanga who was enthroned as King at the age of 18 years. Leon will be a witness to the tyrannical behaviour of the young king. Leon was baptised in 1885, probably by Fr. Lourdel. It was a period of uncertainty just before the outbreak of the persecution of the period from 1885 – 1887 in which Uganda was to become a land of martyrs. He received the Christian name of Bishop Livinhac, ‘Leon’ and he was to remain Livinhac’s faithful companion. The Chronicles of the time state, “Léon Lwanga, one of the first neophytes of Uganda, was one of the most faithful servants of the missionaries in the period following the persecution of 1886.”

On the 6th June 1886, three days after the holocaust at Namugongo, Leon Lwanga received the sacrament of Confirmation at the hands of Bishop Livinhac himself. Knowing his courage and his resilience no matter what the hardship, the missionaries entrusted him with the perilous task of collecting the bones of Charles Lwanga who had just been burned to death on the 3rd June 1886. Leon and Baazilio Kamya found and collected the precious remains and brought them by night to the missionaries now installed at Nalukolongo near the royal palace. On the same day (6th June) about 10 catechumens came to receive the sacrament of Baptism. Fr. Lourdel encouraged them in their faith in the face of sufferings.

Because of the very tense situation in the country as Mwanga was continuing to harry the Christians, many felt obliged to take the route of refugees so that they could freely practice their religion. Leon too decided to take the same route and so we find him with Fr. Ludovic Girault, superior of the mission of Bukumbi (now in Tanzania) and in charge of the Pro-Vicariate of Unyanyembe (also in Tanzania). He was travelling to found the mission of Usambiro. At Fr. Girault’s request, Leon enthusiastically accepted to join the young Christians and bring them to serve as the nucleus of the new foundation.

Brother Leon Lwanga, acting a part in a play.

In September 1888, a rebellion broke out in Uganda and ended in a religious war which opposed Muslims and Christians and provoked fighting among Christian groups as well. Christians were forced to flee from their own areas and forced to take refuge in the Ankole Mountains. On the 10th October 1888, the missionaries finally arrived in Bukumbi. The mission had been burned down, they had been imprisoned by Muslim chiefs and had been robbed of what little they had left and then expelled from the country. They wanted to contact the Christian and neophyte refugees. Bishop Livinhac asked Leon to undertake the dangerous mission of trying to get in touch with the refugees in order to encourage and comfort them.

Leon, always the zealous and brave man, accepted without hesitation and set out accompanied by two trusted companions. In this dangerous mission, Leon came up against many serious obstacles mostly from the followers of the rebellious leader, Karema, the son of Mwanga. They had to retrace their steps hurriedly to escape the danger. Because of the proximity of the threat, Leon and his companions separated. He was never to see his companions again. They were probably taken prisoner and put to death. After having suffered much hardship and exhaustion and thanks to the help of a more hospitable tribe, Leon finally made it back to Bukumbi after an absence of several weeks and presented himself to Bishop Livinhac. From that time, Leon never left the Bishop’s side.

A short time later, Bishop Livinhac, accompanied by Fr. Jules Chantemerle and Bro. Amans took the road back to Uganda. However, the continuing insecurity obliged them to stop in the Ssese Islands. They took advantage of this setback to found the mission of Our Lady, Help of Christians. In September 1889, during these precarious times, Bishop Livinhac received news of his appointment as Superior General of the Society of the Missionaries of Africa with the instructions to leave straight away for Algiers. On Pentecost Sunday, 28th May 1890, Bishop Livinhac ordained Fr. Jean-Joseph Hirth in the humble little chapel of Kamoga to succeed him as Bishop of the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Nyanza. Livinhac left Kamoga definitively on the 6th June 1890 en route to the Coast. He was accompanied by Fr. Celestine Hauttecoeur and a small group of young Baganda men. It was a journey of six months in caravan from Lake Victoria to the Indian Ocean coast, 1,200 kilometres on foot through the interior of the continent, virgin forests and interminable savannahs. Because of insecurity on the roads, Livinhac was accompanied by an armed escort commanded by Leon Lwanga. He relied on the courage and vigilance of his men and especially their chief when the caravan came to cross the territory of the Banera, a tribe with whom the explorer Stanley had also clashed.

During the passage through Banera territory, the caravan was pursued for a time by a hostile group. Leon courageously went out to confront the dangerous bandits, who were well-able to rain a shower of arrows on the peaceful travellers. In other circumstances, he preferred to use traditional methods such as palavering with the local chiefs in order to secure safe passage through their territory. The caravan finally arrived in Bagamoyo and then crossed to the Island of Zanzibar with its palm trees and carnations, its banana and sugar cane plantations. Here, Bishop Livinhac wrote a letter to Cardinal Lavigerie about the 14 young Baganda men including Leon Lwanga. He wrote, “They are willing and ready and still young enough to be trained and to become aides to the missionaries. They are asking me to bring them to Europe where they hope to receive an education that they cannot find in their own troubled country.” Lavigerie penned a favourable response. He wanted to present the young Baganda to the Anti-Slavery Congress, soon to be held in Paris. So the group stayed together and travelled as a family on the long sea voyage to Marseille.

On the 19th September 1890, the members of the caravan disembarked at Marseille. They were just in time to participate at the Anti-Slavery Congress due to start two days later in Paris. Their arrival was seen as a providential twist of fate. On Sunday the 21st the date foreseen for the opening of the Congress, the young Bagandans met Cardinal Lavigerie. On the same evening, the Cardinal along with Bishop Livinhac presided over Solemn Vespers in the Church of St. Sulpice. There was a large crowd present which was curious to see the first apostle and Bishop of Equatorial Africa as well as the young Ugandan Christians.

After the Congress, the group of voyagers seem to have sprouted wings and were on their travels once again. They passed through Lyon on their way to Marseille and then on to Rome where Pope Leo XIII received them in audience on the 10th October 1890. Cardinal Lavigerie presented them to the Holy Father who showed a special pastoral interest in them. He asked Lavigerie about their future and after having been given the information, he expressed the wish that those who might have a vocation be directed into ecclesiastical studies. This visit affected Leon Lwanga deeply and he resolved to consecrate his life to the service of God as a missionary in the family of his friend and father, Bishop Livinhac. After the papal audience, Livinhac took all 14 of them on a tour of the Vatican.

In the “Capitol of all Christians”, Leon wrote a long letter addressed to his friends in Uganda, in particular to Gabriel Kintu, a military chief, and to Cyprien Mutagwanwa , the senior steward of the royal kitchens and his brother Caroli Buuza. Paoli Nalubandwa, the very first Ugandan person to be baptised was also named in the letter.

“My dear friends” he wrote, “We are about to leave Rome. Six will go to Malta; Pauli, Caroli and others, Leon, Yohana will go to Algiers for studies. It is I, Leon who is writing these words. Pray for us, our dear friends and we will pray for you. Ask God to help me. You know that I am quick-tempered, ask that I might have the gentleness of Jesus. I often think of you when I hear Mass and recite the rosary…” (Archives, Rome).

Who were these friends Leon mentioned in his letter? They were members of the first group of four people who were privileged to receive Baptism on Holy Saturday, 27th March 1880 after only four to five months of instruction. Among them we know of Paoli Nalubandwa and his brother Petro Ddamulira and Yosef Lwanga. Among these first conversions were some administrators and pages of the royal court. On the 14th May 1880 four other adults, Fouke Jean Marie, Mathew, Boniface and James received Baptism also. These baptisms took place before dawn as in the time of the catacombs. Very likely, the friends of Brother Leon were among the very first Ugandans to be baptised and some were future martyrs. Their took their responsibilities as Christians seriously and their instructions played an important role in the first small communities of neophytes and catechumens. Despite the zeal of these first Christians and the diligence of the catechumens, there was still a threat to the future of the Church in Uganda. The missionaries felt it incumbent on themselves to quit the country and believed it better to wait for safer times. On the 8th November 1882, they went into voluntary exile and arrived at Bukumbi near Mwanza on the southern shore of Lake Victoria in present day Tanzania. During the absence of the missionaries from 1882 to 1884, the newly baptised took up the responsibility of continuing to teach, helping one another and praying together. They had learnt the importance of baptism in order to obtain eternal salvation and they did not hesitate to give baptism to those in danger of death. On the 12th July 1885, the missionaries returned to Uganda welcomed by a population which had never forgotten their good works.

After the visit to Rome, the 14 Ugandans were divided into two groups. Six left for Malta for studies as catechist-doctors and the others were sent to the junior seminary of St. Eugene near Algiers and so became the first Ugandan seminarians. As for Leon Lwanga, he along with Bishop Livinhac and Fr. Hauttecoeur took the route to Algiers and he joined the postulancy of the Brothers.

In November 1890, Leon was admitted to the novitiate. Here, he renewed acquaintance with Fr. Ludovic Girault whom he had known in Uganda. When they had first met, Fr. Girault was in Uganda and he was responsible for all the missionaries in the area during the time that Fr. Livinhac was in Europe for his episcopal ordination. Leon had made a big impression on Fr. Girault. A story of the time tells us that Fr. Girault, accompanied by Leon, was travelling on the dangerous roads of south Nyanza when Leon had to jump on the leader of a troop of warriors whom he disarmed and brought before Fr. Girault. He, preferring to  keep things calm, released the attacker and sent him on his way with a small present. The caravan could then continue on its journey without danger but a small group of the attackers fired at the missionary without happily hitting him.

On the 29th March 1891, Leon Lwanga was judged worthy to receive the missionary habit. On the same day in Rubaga, Bishop Hirth, the successor to Bishop Livinhac conferred the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation on 50 catechumens, among them was the old mother of Bro. Leon.

From the Chronicles; “The day on which Brother Leon received the white habit and put on the gandoura, bournous and red chechia of the Society in the Chapel of the Generalate in Algiers was the same day his old mother was baptised and confirmed by Bishop Hirth, successor to Bishop Livinhac in the ‘Cathedral’ of Rubaga in Uganda.”

The novitiate was not easy for this man of 30 years. Only recently, as a young man, he was used to carrying arms in the defence of his honour and his country. He took part in military operations and long forays into neighbouring kingdoms leaving the ravages of war behind and returning home with large flocks of animals. A description of his life at that time was that of a member of the royal guard and above all a soldier of the King renowned for his energy, perseverance and resolve, not cold hearted but refusing to back down before any kind of danger. This did not prevent from becoming a model of regularity, moderation, great piety and even loyalty.

BrotherLéon Lwanga with two confreres

“With exceptional courage, he got down to the work of training himself to become a Missionary of Africa and a Brother. For him it is not a question of a call to do something, but more to be, to be a missionary in a love that wants to imitate Jesus whom he has only known for such a short time ” (Obituary)

6th November 1890: “the Brothers’ novitiate has a black postulant. He is Leon, the chief of the caravan that brought Bishop Livinhac to Zanzibar. Let us hope that he will not be the last and that the brave Baganda will not shy away from a religious rule any more than they did before persecution and martyrdom. (Diary of Maison Carrée).

29th March 1891 “Easter, ‘Haec dies quam fecit Dominus’ alleluias all round particularly among the Brothers. Five of them, Brothers Jean, Salvador, Octave, Arcade and Hilaire have taken their Oath. Two took the habit. A new recruit has arrived from St. Laurent d’Olt in the last few days and then Brother Leon our first black brother arrived. At High Mass, dressed in the white habit which contrasted with the colour of his face, he carried the crozier of the first Apostolic Vicar of Uganda. This was a well-deserved honour.” (Diary of Maison Carrée)

After his novitiate, Brother Leon Lwanga remained at Maison Carrée and he worked mainly at book-binding. He was also an advisor to the missionaries appointed to Uganda. He taught them the rudiments of Luganda. On the 25th March 1894, he bound himself to the Society of the Missionaries of Africa by a temporary oath and after a further nine years, on the 31st October 1903, he took his (final) Oath on the Gospels to “consecrate myself and henceforth until death to the Church’s Mission in Africa.” By his fervent piety and his attachment to celibacy, he gave birth to a more positive attitude towards Africans in the mentality of future missionaries.

Having only just emerged from paganism and used to doing anything he liked, Leon courageously got down to work on his vocation and became a model of devotion and attachment to holy religion, a model life consecrated to God. To his most ardent faith, he joined a burning love for God, the Lord and his Mother. His pious exercises were always carried out with great care.

The life of Brother Leo Lwanga among his confreres was a sign of the Gospel proclaimed, first of all by the witness of thanksgiving to God and the community in which he lived. It was also a testimony to the great value of his fidelity already manifested from the time in Uganda when he was the companion of Bishop Livinhac.

Leon was quick witted and intelligent. He studied French without too much trouble and managed to speak it correctly. Very attached to the Society, he could expose himself to any danger to defend a confrere. Each year, on the eve of the feast of St. Charles, a bunch of flowers in his room before a portrait of Cardinal Lavigerie testified to his deep veneration and affectionate respect to the person who had sent the first missionaries to Uganda.

Brother Leon Lwanga, Missionary of Africa, Ugandan worked for 12 years in the motherhouse of the Missionaries of Africa in Algiers. At the end of 1904, he was struck down with tuberculosis of the bones. This illness lasted a year and caused him great pain and suffering. In prayer, he joined his sufferings with those of Our Lord. Despite undergoing an operation, he died in St. Joseph’s Sanatorium at Maison Carrée on the 1st March 1906 having courageously borne his illness to the end. He was 46 years of age.

From the depths of his heart, he carried the virtues of faith, hope and charity with courage to believe that we are destined for happiness guaranteed by God. There was a truth present in him which was supported by the memories of the time of great trials when his friends, the Martyrs of Uganda, sacrificed their lives for Christ.

Kees Maas, M.Afr.

“Prepare your minds” (1 Pt. 1, 13) (PE nr 1091 – 2018/05)

When I was a child, we were made to recite the three acts of faith, hope and charity. Even today, the mention of the word “recite” makes my hair stand on end. At that time, this kind of teaching people to pray was very common so that it is not very surprising that people lost their faith. Faith and endless repetition do not go together, not to mention the fact that such an act of Faith relies more on the use of blind obedience than on making an act of essential discernment. Effectively, this type of an act states: “My God, I firmly believe all that the Catholic Church believes and teaches.” In today’s world who would be satisfied with such an act of Faith.

When I arrived in Africa, I very quickly understood that I had to learn these same prayers in the local language so as not to appear ignorant and ridiculous among the people. Then, one day, I made a remark in community alluding to my uneasiness about these same prayers which we were demanding the people to recite morning and evening. Somebody shot back telling me that it would be best to let the people say “their” prayers. However that was precisely my point, they were not “their” prayers; we had imposed, imported and formulated them to the detriment of any inculturation or contextualisation.

In contrast to these recited acts of faith, hope and charity, St Peter, in his first letter, calls believers to be… “Always be ready to give an explanation to anybody who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear” (1 Pt. 3, 15b-16a). To go from a faith with its endless repetitions to a personal faith which appeals to people’s intelligence and hearts is one of great urgency for the Church. No doubt, this work is already well underway among the catechumens and neophytes. Africa is not immune to a loss of faith if we continue to ignore its deepest aspiration to a faith which appeals to the head and the heart, and manifests itself in words and deeds.

Jean-Pierre Sauge, M.Afr.

Respect and care for those present; Take an interest in those who are not there (PE nr 1091 – 2018/05)

More and more, I hear derogatory speeches on the subject of the movement of Catholics away from the Church to the independent churches and the “failure” of our pastoral care especially when one compares it with the “success” of the new age movements, the Pentecostal churches and other evangelical churches and sects. If only this was a healthy self-criticism.

Certainly, I would like this to be a genuine criticism which takes into account the objective parameters corresponding to each place and each situation and not to appearances which often hide terrible traumas and human misery.

I will begin with a generic portrait of most of the missions in sub-Saharan Africa. Often these parishes cover an area that is subdivided into Small Christian Communities. The size of each community varies from one region to another. Each Small Christian Community is organized around a leadership which is in direct or indirect contact with the Parish Council. Each small community assures the provision of some ministries depending on the ability and capacity of its members. So a SCC can provide catechism lessons for children, provide help to those who are poor and sick, console those who are afflicted, prayer and Gospel sharing on a weekly basis and the important feasts in the life of the Church. The idea is for Christians to live a truly fraternal life in the manner of the first Christian communities described in the Acts of the Apostles.

The Sunday celebrations of the parish to celebrate Christ are reflected in all these communities coming together to lead a Christian life located in their respective neighbourhoods. This means that in certain urban parishes, there are up to five Eucharistic celebrations on a Sunday. This is not negligible, and one rarely sees this in the Pentecostal churches whose “liveliness” we extol.

Salvador Muῆoz-Ledo celebrating a Paschal vigil at Bunia

What is special about the Catholic Church? What can she point to in the field of pastoral care? What are the strengths she can rely on to do better. to live in tune with the times and move forward? These questions invite us to cast a certain objective look on all the means that the Church has put in place over the years to serve the Christian faithful at all levels. I do not want to answer all these questions in the present article; I would prefer to leave that to the care of each community or group which is searching to deepen its pastoral commitments.

Nevertheless, I should point out that rare are the pastoral or religious organisations which have so much literature to hand as that of the Catholic Church in various areas such as liturgy, spirituality, pastoral work, education, catechesis, doctrine etc.

Long gone is the time when the Church enjoyed complete control regarding thoughts, as she claimed “a monopoly of the truth.” Today, and this is not such a very bad thing, she is obliged to face up to her past and present errors, to let herself be challenged by a society which sees things differently (sometimes without God). She has to live in direct confrontation with those who have chosen to follow other values different from the ones she advocates. The present day Church is called to live humbly in heralding, as she has always done, the virtue of humility.

This “up front” struggle, coupled with the guilt that results from the awareness of the errors she perpetuated and the horror of the mistakes made in the past, sometimes leads the Church to turn in on itself and adopt extreme attitudes such as inappropriate self-justification and inopportune self-deprecation. The solution can certainly be found somewhere between the two extremes.

I would rather propose an approach in which one judges a tree by its fruits. While acknowledging that some fruits go bad on the tree, this does not take away from the fact that the tree still can produce good fruit. What was the intention of the “founder of the Church”? What was his dream for humanity? How has the Catholic Church tried to carry out the will of its “founder?” By doing what in the world? Does the Church have an absolute certainty that since its foundation, it has never committed any errors or faults? Has the Church been warned in the scriptures of this possibility of being wrong sometimes?

While keeping a sense of proportion, the men and women of the Church should not lose sight of the freedom and especially the responsibility of each member of the faithful regarding their own choices. You can instruct a people and bring them to the point of receiving the sacraments, but you have absolutely no power over the choice that they will make regarding the practice or non-practice of their faith according to the teaching of the Church, which had accompanied them on their (spiritual) journey. It may be that a person makes a choice contrary to what you would have planned or wanted; is everything lost for all that? That would be to forget that the “ways of God are unfathomable”.

If we make the choice to respect those who are always present, nevertheless, we should spare no effort and, in faith, go out and seek those who are lagging behind. I remember organising meetings, but at the time they were due to start, only 5 of the 30 people expected were present. This led some people to say, “there is nobody, lets postpone the meeting”… a conscientious leader, will look at the goodwill and effort of those who have come despite the already heavy demands being made on their time.

From the beginning to the end of his public life, the Lord crisscrossed Palestine to proclaim the Kingdom of God, the Good News. It is from Him that the Church learnt about missionary zeal. Pope Francis has never stopped reminding the Church that she has a vocation to be a community that “goes out”, following the example of Jesus to meet the people of her time in their actual circumstances and to announce the Good News to them through attitudes and actions that lift people up. The Lord also took the time to take care of those whom he had called to be with Him, those who walked with him.

Gauthier Sokpo with a group of young people at Bunia

The pastoral challenge, at a time when churches are emptying in certain countries, would be to stimulate the Christian community that we are caring for, to help it become aware of its missionary dimension. We need to do this in such a way that it is not only the parish priest, the chaplain, the deacon, the “servant of God” who chase after those who “no longer come to church” but that the entire Christian community adopts a “going out” attitude to meet their brothers and sisters who have “let go” in one way or another. This also includes those who have been offended by certain attitudes they met in the community of faith which is the Church. The entire Christian community should be a witness to the love of God and to remind people that Christ wishes them to be always with Him. Thus, the whole Church would be a “going out” community. However, to get to that stage, we must know how to take good care of “those who come”, those who are available for the Lord.

The local churches should take their courage in their hands and address in an appropriate and innovative way, the needs of the Christian faithful of all ages. All this demands a lot of truth and humility, a little bit like the path taken by the Apostle Peter. The mission of the Church, internally and externally still has a future! “And I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”(Mt 16, 18-19)

Freddy Kyombo, M.Afr.

“Regional characteristics, incarnated fraternity and sharp vision” (PE nr 1091 – 2018/05)

The past that comes back and the past that never comes back are moments in our life that evokes memories and feelings that resonate unceasingly, like a wave, in the distant corners of our existence. For example, the happiness of having succeeded in something or recognition for having guided brothers or sisters towards a big-hearted course of action that leads to faith which is embodied in prayer, witness and a commitment to doing good with justice. These moments in our life also have their demons. Their ugliness sometimes haunts our minds to the point of triggering a feeling of revolt against human failures and limitations. Fortunately, by divine grace, our failures and our human limitations take us back to the spirituality of humility to savour and celebrate the mercy of God and the joy of the fraternal support whose benevolence has stood the test of time.

In the long run, we are moving towards a more incarnated and more radiant missionary vision resulting from a holistic and continuous discernment. To this end, I salute the memory of our elders who have discerned and witnessed to the incarnate vision of the missionary-disciple and for whom memories of regionality and fraternity still exude the feeling of pride and hope. Happy are you for having guided other young people to this vision and responding to the same call of Christ; “Old people you are still bearing fruit… good for you!”

In the distant past, missionary vocations came from the western world. This was the time of asserting the Christian tradition. Afterwards there has been a remarkable decrease in missionary vocations and nowadays we observe a certain coldness and disinterestedness regarding the Catholic faith. In the recent past, the region of the African world has begun to see the emergence of its own missionary vocation. In Africa, there is still enthusiasm for the Catholic faith. However, we can still ask the question; how long will this expression of missionary enthusiasm last? It will certainly take some time before there is a cooling off regarding the Catholic faith and a diminution of missionary vocations as elsewhere. However we are beginning to see the first signs of changing perspectives with the arrival of Pentecostalism and similar sects, as well as the advent of some oriental religions (Buddhism and Hinduism etc.) brought by the arrival of the Chinese, Indians, and Pakistanis. There are also an increasing number of secret societies who recruit young Africans. There is also the possibility of changes resulting from more stability and macroeconomic growth. These events are beginning to provoke some cultural shocks but we may need to wait for other major and/or minor upheavals, be they in the distant future or not, before we will see a fall in missionary vocations. We should remember however that nothing is set in stone. Considering the changes looming on the horizon and as part of a vision of an incarnated mission, we should seriously consider establishing movements of “lay missionary friends of Africa”, both locally and internationally wherever we may be. We can also envisage, in the more or less near future, the setting up of communities promoting the missions and missionary vocations in other areas of the world, for example, Madagascar, South Korea and Indonesia. The Indian model which has been a long term investment and more recently the Brazilian model are beginning to bear fruit. However, we should never forget that each region has its own experiences and particularities.

Raphaël Muteba Ndjibu, M.Afr.

The memories of a secondary school chaplain (PE nr 1091 – 2018/05)

I was chaplain to a secondary school in Zambia from Easter 1975 to January 1982. This is the story of my work in this post.

One day, I was travelling from Chilonga, the parish where I was assistant priest, towards the Bishop’s House in Mbala Diocese (The diocese no longer exists, the northern part was transferred to the Archdiocese of Kasama and the other part – in the west – became the Diocese of Mpika).Chilonga to Mbala is more than 400 kms on what was a gravel road at that time. There was very little traffic and in the middle of nowhere, I met another car coming against me and which seemed in a hurry. We had just the time to recognise one another. It was the Regional Superior of Zambia. In fact, he was coming to see me in Chilonga in order to ask me to replace Fr. Michael Merizzi who had just been appointed Assistant Regional and who was chaplain, at the time, of Lwitikila Secondary School. Having already done some studies in catechesis and already worked with young people, I accepted without too much hesitation. I continued on my journey to Mbala to take part in a priests’ meeting. I do not remember if the Regional continued on his journey or returned to his office in Kasama. I do remember, however, when I was Regional, I carried out a number of consultations and made many appointments in the bush during my visits to the confreres.

The secondary school at Lwitikila

The secondary school of Lwitikila was (still is) a boarding school for girls belonging to the Diocese of Mpika. It was run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary from Chigwell in London. On arriving at the school, I was more or less told that I would not find it easy to be immediately accepted. It was an institution of 500 girls aged from 12 to 18 years. In fact, things went quite well. The girls relied on the kindness of the chaplain in a place where discipline was rather strict. But 500 girls!!! Some confreres asked me how I felt in the middle of all of them. I believe that they were concerned about my mental and moral health. I seem to remember that I replied something along these lines, that they were too many to be a problem! (But all the same, better not to be too sure of oneself!)

Very soon after my arrival at this big school, a group of girls came and asked me to resume the custom of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament on Sunday evening, which had been discontinued some time back. I refused. I refused because I thought that this devotion was not what they really needed. I invited them to be more creative and find something more meaningful for the end of the day on a Sunday. I quickly forgot about their request and my reply until, on a Sunday evening, I was going to the Chapel (it was already dark) and I noticed that there were lights in the sanctuary. I got closer and discovered about 30 girls seated on the ground around the altar, each one with a bible and a lit candle in her hand. It was a moment of sharing which took place every Sunday during the school year. On that day, I retreated on tip toe so as not to disturb this moment of prayer freed from any constraint or formalism.

The staff of the secondary School of Lwitikila at the time of Jean-Pierre Sauge

Religious teaching

At that time, being a chaplain of a secondary school meant being part of the teaching staff, which comprised volunteer lay people from the U.K. and Ireland as well as some Zambians newly graduated from Teacher Training College or University. It was a dynamic group, young and enthusiastic. As a member of staff, I was expected to teach on the same basis as the other teachers. Evidently, I taught the Religion courses with the help of some sisters and laypeople. The Religion course, which I found on arriving at the school, was a course of Bible Knowledge which was recognized for the purposes of the Cambridge exams. I quickly got tired of this type of teaching (in fact confined to the Acts of the Apostles). It was purely academic and learning by rote without any human or other formation. With a group of other secondary school chaplains, we decided to do look for other courses more adapted to young people and livelier. Happily, a new course had just been published in Kenya. It was remarkable for its methodology and its content. For the junior classes of the secondary school the textbook was called “Developing in Christ” and for the senior classes the title was “Living in Christ.” But the books were in Kenya. With the chaplain of a neighbouring school and the efficient support of the late Frank Carey who was working for the Ministry of Education, we decided to go and fetch them for ourselves, each one driving his own pick up; two tons of books, enough copies to launch the course in three or four schools. Leaving very early in the morning, we arrived in Nairobi just as night was falling. The following day, we loaded up the books and took a little rest and then we took the road back again to Lwitikila to arrive in the dead of night. It was quite an adventure involving the crossing of three borders of Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia. However, we were still young, sight was still good and the backs were not yet giving any trouble. And then of course there was the pride of having made a worthwhile journey to start a new religious education course.

Sunday services

Lwitikila School was a Catholic Institution, but the admission process did not discriminate. The proportion was about 50:50, half of the students were Catholic and half were Protestant or others. On Sunday, the Catholics had Mass early in the morning whereas the others (UCZ, United Church of Zambia) had their service at the end of the morning which was led by a pastor from the neighbouring village. One Sunday, just before midday, I was in the school visiting the various groups (Young Christian Students, Vocations group, Bible Group, the choir…), which were holding their weekly meetings, when I heard loud shrieks coming from the hall where the Protestant community were holding their service. There was the sound of window panes being broken, doors being broken down and girls running in all directions and even jumping out of windows. What was happening? Perhaps a snake had managed to wriggle its way into the hall. Nothing like that at all! It just happened that, on this particular day, the usual minister had been replaced by a pastor from the Pentecostal church and it was his yells and cries during his exorcism exercise and healing session that frightened the girls, who were not used to this sort of thing. Hence the pandemonium. A few days later and not related in any way to these events, the school administration had to expel and send home to their parents about 15 students. They were “born again” Christians who refused to attend class during the hours of study and preferred to devote themselves to their religious exercises. These “born again” Christians could be a real pest and hindered the smooth running of the school. As for the Pentecostal minister, we never saw him again. Maybe, seeing the reaction of the girls, he got a fright himself, or perhaps he may have sworn to never come back to this Catholic institution which had caused the defeat of his healing powers.

Other activities

Now, what else? The Zambian Government had ordered that each school have a productive unit. Lwitikila decided to dig a pond for fish farming as there was a river close by. I was in charge of this big work. We got some good results; two or three meals of fresh fish for the whole school. Unfortunately, we had to abandon the project very quickly. Sea Otters had come up the river and had vandalised the ponds. I also remember that the school was attacked twice by the boys from a neighbouring secondary school (15kms away!) As is often the case, it was the girls who had insulted the boys and there was no question that they were going to let it pass.

Finally what about the feasts and celebrations? At Lwitikila there is a big and beautiful church. The school gathers there for all the special occasions. I had asked the mother of one our confreres who taught domestic science at the school to cut, from local materials, vestments for those who served at the altar; the readers and the acolytes. They cut an impressive figure in their long albs with their vivid colours and African patterns. There were processions and dances and there were the 500 girls who, when they sang passionately and all together could make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. One hymn in English was very popular, “The Lord of the Dance” with words such as “Dance, dance wherever you may be, I am the Lord of the dance, said he!”

A couple of months after leaving the school, I was appointed Assistant Regional for Zambia. To go from a school with 500 pupils to directing a band of 150 or more Missionaries is not the most obvious thing. However, I had learnt and taught that life was change and to live life fully, one had to change often. In the course of my travels as Assistant Regional and later on as Regional, I sometimes met some former students. Some were already mothers of families, others were professed sisters. These encounters were always joyful. We forgot the moments of frustrations and what was left was mutual esteem and something akin to friendship.

Jean-Pierre Sauge, M.Afr.

The persecution of the Church in the DRC: a challenge for its mission? (PE nr 1091 – 2018/05)

The question of insecurity regarding the Church workers in the DRC has become a major preoccupation for all people of good will. Our beloved Democratic Republic of the Congo is becoming more and more intolerant and threatening for the Catholic Church. Priests, religious and all people of good will are now asking themselves questions about the future of the Catholic Church and its mission in the DRC. Accusations, arrests, attacks, and kidnapping of priests make us all feel uneasy. We live in a state of constant anxiety and fear. For those in training for religious life, in pre-First Phase houses, it is a big challenge to the life they aspire to.

Here in North Kivu Province, we have had some very upsetting and discouraging experiences for young people in formation and for expatriate missionaries. Many are asking themselves the question: should we leave or should we stay? We should never forget the anxieties of our parents, our confreres and our friends who call or write to us day and night in order to know more about the security situation in North Kivu. We have experienced many distressing events here in North Kivu and they have left a mark on our lives.

Some key events

We cannot give a list of all the incidents that we have experienced in the DRC but here are some examples: One of the small chapels of the Cathedral Parish of Goma, just a few metres from our community at Foyer Godefroid Ngongo, was desecrated by unknown persons and could not be used for a long time afterwards. The faithful of this outstation used one of our meeting rooms for Morning Prayer and Mass. For us, it was a way of showing our solidarity with the local church. In the Parish of Notre Dame d’Afrique which is run by the Missionaries of Africa, nearly every Sunday there are announcements regarding children that have been kidnapped by persons unknown. On the 21st January 2018, at Goma Cathedral, the Christians fled when they heard the shouts of the protester from both Catholics and non-Catholics youth after the first Mass. The police fired teargas and one of the canisters fell on the presbytery. The police also fired live rounds at the presbytery and into the air. Many people were injured and many collapsed because of the noise. The other Masses could not be celebrated that Sunday. I remember that day well, as I was returning from Katoy from the Parish of Notre Dame d’Afrique where I had celebrated the first Mass at 6.00 AM. I heard gunfire and I was afraid. I prayed to God that I would arrive safely at the house.

In the Diocese of Butembo-Beni, also in North Kivu Province, a number of priests and laypeople have been kidnapped. On the 22nd January 2018, in Bingo Parish unidentified persons kidnapped Fr.Robert Masinda and two agricultural engineers, Mr Dieudonné Sangalas and Mr Augustine Nyuza. Two other priests, Frs. Jean-Pierre Akilimali and Charles Kipasa had already been kidnapped from Bunyuka Parish on the 17th July 2017. We should not forget the kidnapping of the Assumptionist Fathers, Jean-Pierre Ndulani, Edmond Kisughu, and Anselme Wasukundi from the parish of Mbau near Beni on the 19th October 2012; we have had no news of them since that day. The situation that we are going through is shocking. We have the huge responsibility of protecting our flock and one can see similar situations described in Holy Scripture, “Behold I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves, so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.” (Mt 10, 16)

Relations Church-State

Relationships between the Catholic Church and the Government are not good. The Church is pursuing its prophetic mission of condemning evil and forming the consciences of the faithful. Everybody is called to give the best of themselves, ideas, advice but especially to pray that the rulers, who have the duty of loving and listening to their people so that they can govern properly, such is the duty of a good Catholic ruler. However, how can we give the best of ourselves in a country where we are not listened to, where the rulers rule the country like foreigners without caring for anybody or anything? The rulers do not seem to be concerned with the problems in the country. On the 4th and 5th February 2018, people from the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups clashed in Bunia, Ituri, without showing mercy to anyone, 23 people were killed without counting the injured. Killings take place on a daily basis in Butembo-Beni where even the United Nations Peacekeepers (MONUSCO) were attacked and killed (14 Tanzanian soldiers had been killed in 2017 by armed men). These are very stressful times for us. The rulers are treating the wounds of the people very lightly. Politicians cry “Peace” “Peace” but there is no peace. It is really shameful and our leaders should be ashamed but they have gone beyond the point of feeling shame. “We wait for peace to no avail; for a time of healing, but terror comes instead” (Jer 8, 15).

Here in the Congo, priests and religious were well respected by police and security forces and generally by the people. However, this is no longer the case. To be a Catholic Priest is considered being a member of the opposition. Those against the President are considered to be anti-democratic. We are badly seen by many of the state authorities. When we are driving we are often stopped by the traffic police who carry out all sorts of checks with an intolerable hostility. There are a number of sects whose pastors spend all their time insulting the Catholic Church, bishops, priests and religious. Here in Goma, there is a radio station belonging to one such sect whose sole mission is to make accusations against the Catholic Church and its workers. We are reduced to nothing, our bones are crushed. People constantly ask us why we do not react to this man who insults us day and night. However, we have chosen the path of King David who was insulted by Shimei. In 2 Samuel 16, 9-12, we have the following lovely dialogue: “Abishai, son of Zeruiah, said to the king: ‘why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over, please, and lop off his head.’ But the king replied: ‘what business is it of mine or of yours, sons of Zeruiah that he curses? Suppose the Lord has told him to curse David; who then will dare to say, why are you doing this?’ Then the king said to Abishai and to all his servants: ‘if my own son, who came forth from my loins, is seeking my life, how much more might this Benjaminite do so! Let him alone and let him curse for the Lord has told him to. Perhaps the Lord will look on my affliction and make it up to me with benefits from the curses he is uttering this day.”

Let us pray for the Church in the Congo, for the missionaries and for all people of good will so that there may be a better understanding between the Church and State in order to construct a country congenial for all.

Elias Kapange, M.Afr.