Faced with the tragic situations of conflict in various parts of the world, the Holy Father Pope Francis has called upon faithful Catholics to join in a special day of prayer and fasting for peace, this week on Friday 23 February, Friday of the first week of Lent. The Pope has also invited non-Catholics and non-Christians to join together with this initiative in whatever manner they deem most appropriate.
In his appeal, the Holy Father underlined, in particular, his concern for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and for South Sudan. Two African bishops, Bishop Timothy Bodika Mansiyai of Kikwit in the DRC, and Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Adwok of the Archdiocese of Khartoum in Sudan, spoke recently to the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) about the crisis their people are suffering.
“The Holy Father knows well the tragic situation that both countries are going through”, the Congolese bishop remarked. “The Pope has a great desire to visit both places”, stated Bishop Bodika, “but he was forced to cancel both trips”. But “although he was unable to be physically present in our countries, he nonetheless accompanies us spiritually”.
During his visit to ACN’s international headquarters, Bishop Bodika expressed great gratitude towards Pope Francis, “who continues to closely follow the tense situation that the DRC is undergoing and the repression and abuses of which the priests, religious and lay Catholic Christians are victims. God hears the tears of his people.”
And indeed, the DR Congo is wracked by different conflicts. The struggle for the country’s mineral wealth for more than a decade has sparked a ruthless war in eastern Congo, to which the conflict in the central Kasai region has been added since 2016. And as if this were not bad enough, the country is also afflicted by “the general crisis due to the political tensions in relation to the general elections”.
In recent months the situation has further escalated, with peaceful demonstrations violently repressed by government armed forces, resulting in deaths and numerous injuries. Some of these protests were initiated by the Lay Coordination Committee (CLC) of the Archdiocese of Kinshasa and were simply calling for the accords of December 31, 2016 (the so-called Saint Sylvester Accords) to be respected and for the constitutional rotation of offices in the political institutions of the state.
Prayer and fasting for conversion of hearts
“The special day of prayer and fasting is a call for the conversion of hearts, of all our hearts, but also those of our politicians and leaders”, said Bishop Bodika. “They have forgotten that their duty should be to be at the service of the nation, not merely of a handful of people, while the rest of the community remains in poverty.” The people of Congo were “crying out in pain”, said the bishop, yet “It is a cry that the international community is not hearing”. In his own diocese of Kikwit alone the number of uprooted people now in need of care, with food, accommodation, healthcare and schooling, has already reached 30,000. “The diocese of Kikwit does not have the financial means to cope with this humanitarian emergency. And so far our petitions to the authorities and political organizations to help manage this crisis have not met with success”, Bishop Bodika complained.
Terror reigns in South Sudan
For his part, Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Adwok of Khartoum in Sudan, emphasized to ACN the terrible situation in South Sudan. “The war there has created mass displacements in many parts of the land, and destruction in relation to the community and the family, with loss of respect for human dignity.”
Explaining the situation in the country, Bishop Adwok deplored the fact that “Terror reigns in South Sudan, with warriors, government and politicians grappling for power, positions and not minding the fate of the ordinary Southern Sudanese. The fact that until today no one knows – the government itself does not know – how many people died in South Sudan since the start of the war in December 2013 is indicative of how the value of the human person has become of no worth in South Sudan.
“No one keeps count and it looks as if those who died of violence, some of hunger and other mistreatments were ‘unfortunate’ – [as if] they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Referring to attackers targeting vulnerable groups in society, he said: “I know of some elderly people who could not physically run away from their homes but still met their death in the same home killed by people carrying arms.”
In addition to calling for a cessation of hostilities in South Sudan and for the blessing of peace, Bishop Adwok requested that during the day of prayer and fasting on 23 February people should also pray for the refugees and displaced, and especially for the young.
“Most of them are jobless and cannot continue with their education, and at the same time they are left alone to fend for themselves and in many cases to take care of their young siblings and relatives as well. The numerous challenges they face leave them feeling lonely, seeking cheap consolations and in many cases being drawn into groups linked to violence”, he explained.
31 wars and armed conflicts in 2017
The Holy Father’s appeal to pray for peace is a concrete response to the silent cry of so many victims all over the world. There were a total of 31 wars and armed conflicts during 2017, according to research conducted by the Group for the Investigation into the Causes of War based at the University of Hamburg in Germany.
The pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need, which supported the African continent in the form of almost 2000 projects and a total of over 24 million Euros during 2017, is inviting all its benefactors and co-workers to join together in the day of prayer and fasting next Friday, 23 February 2018.