More than 14,500 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in Africa. The virus has cost the lives of almost 800 people there. Public institutions such as churches and schools are closed in numerous countries on the continent. Many Africans do not have access to the Internet or to television, and the radio remains the best instrument for the Church to reach and support its faithful. In this, the Church is taking its mission as a “church on the go“ seriously.
“In these days of social distancing and confinement measures, the radio has become an area of life necessary to many people.” Father Apollinaire Cibaka Cikongo discussed the situation that he is currently experiencing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with ACN International (Aid to the Church in Need). The country is also affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The priest from the diocese of Mbujimayi founded Radio Ditunga with headquarters in Ngandajika, a city in his diocese that is centrally located in the country. The radio station was founded ten years ago with the support of the pontifical foundation.
“Since the churches are now closed due to the health concerns we are all familiar with, Radio Ditunga has adapted its programme to allocate more air time to the celebration of the Eucharist, prayer and spiritual exercises held by priests from Ngandajika,” Father Cibaka Cikongo explained. He also emphasised that all of the spiritual exercises and liturgical celebrations are broadcast live, as was the Easter Triduum.
This station has a broadcasting range over an area with about five million inhabitants. However, it did not observe its traditional day of silence on Holy Saturday this year. “In view of the competition that exists between the communities of faith, which other local radio stations use to spread false messages, one example being that several of them are giving the pope and the Catholic Church the spiritual responsibility for the coronavirus pandemic,” Father Cikongo continued, “we decided that the period of silence might lead our listeners to turn to competitor stations, with all the risk of manipulation this involves.”
A new challenge: school lessons live on the radio
In response to the schools closing on March 19, the radio station decided to broadcast lessons live to maintain the connection between teachers and their students. “This is a completely new experience for us,” the priest acknowledged. “We started working with the Catholic education centre La Robertanna (Centre éducatif catholique La Robertanna). As we have a total of 153 families with children, we bought small transistor radios to distribute to each of these families. Other families are interested in the project and will be able to participate because radio is accessible to all. Two hours of lessons are arranged for each day.”
“The teachers come to the radio station and the plan is to broadcast questions and answers live for 30 minutes during the time of the evening lesson.” One of the challenges will be “to make sure that the parents participate, particularly those who are illiterate,” while the other challenge is a financial one, the priest explained. “Because of the school closures, it is difficult for the parents to make spontaneous payments.”
Messengers of hope
The medium of radio has proved to be a critical hub for Christians in these times of health crisis, and not only in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A large number of project partners of ACN have turned to the radio stations for even more intensive use.
One such example can be found at Radio Sol Mansi in Guinea-Bissau, which has also extended its broadcasting programme. This was done not only to raise awareness among the population of the measures being taken against the coronavirus epidemic, but also to continue their evangelisation efforts, now more than ever, by broadcasting divine services, catechesis and the various hours of prayer, Sister Alessandra Bonfanti, assistant manager of the Portuguese radio station, explained to ACN. She then continued, “In the current times, it is our mission to act as ambassadors of hope for a society that fears the pandemic. We have to help keep burning the flames of faith in hope – the hope that the world will return to normal if everyone does his or her part.”
ACN supports a number of radio stations in Africa. Over the past five years, the pontifical foundation ACN not only has helped stations in Guinea-Bissau and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but also in Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Uganda, the Central African Republic, Tanzania, Togo and Zambia. ACN has made financial contributions to 35 projects for the acquisition of new technical equipment and five projects for the production of new radio programmes.