DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO – “A death struggle forgotten by the world”
The wave of violence that is currently tearing apart the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to affect the Church as well. However, there is still hope for peace. Representatives of the recently attacked seminary of Malole ask for prayers for peace in the country and for solidarity so that they may return to their work. The pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need plans to support the rebuilding efforts as soon as peace is restored.
Father Richard Kitengie Muembo, rector of Christ the King Theological Seminary in Malole in DRC, which was partially set on fire and destroyed on 18 February by rebels fighting against the government, visited the international headquarters of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need in Germany together with Father Apollinaire Cibaka Cikongo, executive secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of Kananga (ASSEPKA), to report on the current situation and to ask for support in restoring the seminary in Kasai-Central, so that theology classes can begin again as soon as the situation in the Congolese region permits.
“We never thought that we would become the target of attacks. It happened because militia loyal to the late tribal leader Kamwina-Nsapu wanted to set up their headquarters on the premises of the seminary. We declined and tried to find a peaceful solution through dialogue. Unfortunately, the local authorities chose a military solution to end the conflict. This led the rebels to attack our seminary on Saturday, 18 February. Thankfully, since we had noticed that the situation was becoming very dangerous, we had already gotten the seminarians out,” Father Richard said.
“The 77 seminarians, ranging in age from 21 to 27 and originally from seven different dioceses in the country, have suffered terribly. They had to flee for two days, taking only what they were wearing with them. They were taken in by families and had to stay with them for three weeks until they could be moved, which, in some cases, was only possible with the help of the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO). The media was informed of this”, Father Apollinaire who is on the faculty of Christ the King Seminary confirmed. The seminary itself was looted, destroyed and parts of it set on fire. The Carmelite sisters also had to leave their convent enclosure, which is situated about 400 metres from the seminary.
In July 2016, tribal leader Jean-Pierre Kamwina Nsapu Pandi contested the legitimacy of the central government. He called for a rebellion and attacked the local police, whom he accused of abuse of power, as well as rival communities. Kamwina Nsapu was killed by security forces on 12 August. This led his followers to take up the fight against the central government. What began as a small opposition movement against the government has become an open battle. According to the latest MONUSCO reports, this battle has cost the lives of at least 400 civilians as well as a large number of law enforcement officers.
On 31 March, a militia group attacked the city of Luebo, which is located 200 kilometres west of Malole. The rebels looted and burned down the episcopal see. They set fire to the coordinating office for Catholic schools and the novitiate, which provides training to sisters. Finally, they desecrated the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. This is a new scope of the attacks: “The Catholic Church is highly respected in this country because it has never let itself be co-opted by any political group. Now attempts are being made to embroil the Church in the conflict. Since December of last year, the Catholic Church has been the mediator between government and opposition to find a transitional arrangement,” Father Richard explained.
In a communication published on 25 February, ASSEPKA accused the government of the poor administration of traditional forces, which have been manipulated and politicized. The assembly pointed out as well the disappointments suffered by the long-excluded region and the unemployment affecting large numbers of young people. Both are at the heart of the violence in the region. “However, we have also heard of superstitious rituals: they recruit children and adolescents, give them a potion and a ritual bath, and let them believe that they cannot be harmed by bullets, that they are immortal. And so they commit barbaric crimes, just as if they were under the influence of drugs,” Father Apollinaire added.
The crisis in Kasai caused by Kamwina-Nsapu militia in the southern part of the country is one of five armed conflicts in DRC. An appeal addressed to the Security Council of the United Nations by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference from 20 March 2017 described human rights violations taking place in four other parts of the country: the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) continues to cause problems in the North; North Kivu in the eastern part of the country; Tanganyika province, where fighting has broken out between the Batwa and Luba, and finally the central part of the country, including the capital of Kinshasa, where political tensions have arisen through the presidential elections.
Even though the current situation does not permit its implementation at this time, the two representatives of the seminary presented to the pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need a project for the immediate reconstruction of the buildings damaged by looting and fire, to ensure that the seminary will be able to reopen as soon as conditions improve. “Hope keeps us going. We are not just going to wait and see, because we would like our seminarians to be able to complete the interrupted academic year. The next seminary is located 400 kilometres away. The lack of infrastructure, the state of the country and security aspects are such that we cannot send the students there. We would also like to ask all the benefactors and friends of the pastoral charity to pray for peace in our country.”
Together with this request for aid, Father Richard has also made an appeal to the international community, “The Catholic Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo is in the same situation as all of the Congolese people. Parts of the population are hiding in the jungle. Schools have been closed, hunger reigns … We dream of an end to this pointless war. Looters from all over the world come here to exploit the country. Anyone who uses modern technology nowadays is in some way using the blood of the Congolese people,” the priest pointed out. In this, he is making reference to coltan, a black ore made of columbite and tantalite which is, among other things, used in the production of batteries for mobile devices, GPS and computers. Coltan is one of the so-called “blood ores” because its extraction involves human rights violations and is used to finance armed groups and thus to continue existing conflicts.
“There is only one human race. We take advantage of the benefits. This is all right, but we also need to become active in response to this suffering. The suffering of the Congolese is the suffering of the world. Together, we can end this war. It is necessary to stop being indifferent, to end the silence. To say NO to violence, to the industry of death, to the arms factories and the arms trade. Technology should make lives easier, not end lives. We should use it to discuss the hard reality of the Congo, to ask for prayers and international support to uphold life and human rights,” Father Apollinaire continued.
In 2016, Aid to the Church in Need granted more than 3.3 Million Euros to fund projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Last year, the pontifical foundation supported 41 seminaries in the country, which benefited a total of 1,229 seminarians.
Maria Lozano – ACN International