A challenge carved in stone

The impact of a cathedral in Basankusu in the western Congo – supported by Aid to the Church in Need

The position of the church in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is difficult, especially in the eastern part of the country, where war has been raging for decades over the coveted raw materials mines. The effects of this can also be felt in the northwestern diocese of Basankusu of Bishop Joseph Mokobe Ndjoku. For some time now, an impressive church building has towered over the surrounding countryside there. A project that the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has been supporting for many years. It is now taking on definite shape, in the middle of green fields.

Travel in the diocese is arduous

But the ailing economy, marked by corruption and inefficiency, has left its mark everywhere. For example, in many places, the infrastructure is in a very bad state of repair or hardly existent. This means that when Bishop Joseph Mokobe Ndjoku and his employees go out to visit the parishes in his diocese of 77,000 square kilometers, they can often only travel by canoe on the rivers because the streets are impassable. It takes him more than two days to travel about 300 kilometers.

National elections are planned for late 2017. However, Bishop Mokobe reports that the preparations for these are stagnating, the roundtables at which the church had time and again championed peace talks and the reformation of the bitterly divided camps that make up Congolese society have ceased to take place. The well-known exploitation of natural resources and its devastating impact on the people remains unresolved. One of the main demands of the church has, therefore, become “to hold the upcoming elections”.

The new church building motivates believers

However, symbols of hope continue to rise in the middle of this state of affairs. One example is the nearly completed cathedral of Basankusu. With it, more than just a building has become visible and tangible to the local people. A Congolese saying goes, “Without a roof over your head – there is no such thing as community.” As the cathedral begins to rise up out of the field, “this literally establishes the community of believers for the local people,” explains the bishop. After all, this is where they can gather in prayer or for educational programmes, for trade fairs and celebrations, on sunny and rainy days. “For them, the cathedral is a perpetual source of motivation carved in stone to do something for the common good.” It symbolizes being a part of the large family of believers that stretches beyond national borders.” And it is thus also a link to the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need from all over the world who have contributed to the funding of this cathedral. At the same time, the new church represents the challenge “for Catholics in the Congo to become active in the Christian spirit of peace,” explains Joseph Mokobe Ndjoku. Which is why he describes the cathedral as the key for further campaigns of this sort – in spite of the austerity of daily life. The inauguration of the church is planned for this spring.

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Founded in 1947 as a Catholic aid organization for war refugees and recognized as a papal foundation since 2011, ACN is dedicated to the service of Christians around the world, through information, prayer and action, wherever they are persecuted or oppressed or suffering material need. ACN supports every year an average of 6000 projects in close to 150 countries, thanks to private donations, as the foundation receives no public funding.