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)
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.