Democratic Republic of Congo: 30 years of wartime evangelisation

The Rwandan genocide of 1994 is known worldwide, but what is less well known is that it resulted in the neighbouring eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo being shaken by successive wars and crises. Over the course of these three decades, the Congolese church, with the help of ACN, has brought hope to a sorely tried population.

“For 30 years, we have been in a cycle of violence and eternal new beginnings. One knows when the war starts, but not when it will end,” said Mgr. Floribert Bashimbe, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), during his visit to the international headquarters of the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). “For 30 years, we have been evangelising in the midst of war and trying to convey this message of hope to the people: God created man for life, not for death! We must not give up.”

Mgr. Floribert Bashimbe during a visit to ACN’s headquarters in May 2024
Mgr. Floribert Bashimbe during a visit to ACN’s headquarters in May 2024

In the past three decades, every family in DRC has lost a loved one to war, he said. The Archdiocese of Bukavu, in the province of South Kivu, in the east of the country, has been particularly affected by the violence. Over a period of nine years – between 1996 and 2005 – three bishops lost their lives as a result of the war and its consequences. “Despite all this, the number of faithful in the archdiocese has increased. And our schools and hospitals are among the most renowned in the country.” Over the past 30 years, 16 new parishes have been established and the archdiocese, where 45% of the population is Catholic, boasts 25 female and 13 male religious congregations, and 106 seminarians.

After the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, a large part of the Rwandan population fled to the neighbouring country, plunging DRC into a major crisis: “The situation exploded and caused many problems, because the refugees included not only the poor and persecuted, but also criminals and military groups,” said the Vicar General.

Struggles over the control of mineral resources continue to cause untold suffering to the Congolese population
Struggles over the control of mineral resources continue to cause untold suffering to the Congolese population

As a consequence, the country experienced three wars. Furthermore, since 2021, the M23 militia has again spread terror in the east of the country. Two million internally displaced people live in the city of Goma, which has been surrounded since the end of February. According to media reports, two of the refugee camps were bombed by the rebels at the beginning of May.

“To support the priests, religious and faithful in these difficult times, Archbishop François-Xavier Maroy, myself, and other members of the diocesan curia are available to hear their concerns and to see how the various challenges can be met,” said Mgr. Floribert Bashimbe. In view of the security situation, this personal pastoral care is of immense value.

He emphasised to ACN that none of the 42 parishes in the archdiocese have been closed. “Despite the violence and the threat of death, all our priests have chosen to remain in their parishes. Because experience has shown us that when they are abandoned, places are looted and destroyed. And when a priest leaves his parish – especially in rural communities where a priest has more influence among the population than the government representatives – the majority of the population also flees.”

Mgr. Floribert Bashimbe visits an orphanage managed by the Daughters of the Resurrectio
Mgr. Floribert Bashimbe visits an orphanage managed by the Daughters of the Resurrectio

The help the archdiocese has received from ACN is very valuable, the Vicar General explained. He emphasised how impressed he has been by ACN’s loyalty and courage over all these years. He was especially moved by the visit of a delegation in 1996, during a very critical phase of the war: “Half of our parishes had been destroyed and looted. And everyone was in fear – nobody dared to come to this region. But ACN came to us and helped us to get back on our feet.”

To express their gratitude for this generosity, all the parishes in the archdiocese celebrate Mass for ACN benefactors on the first Friday of every month, the Friday of the Sacred Heart, the Vicar General says, adding that “we have received great support from you for many years. We can only thank you most sincerely for this constant presence at our side.”

 

By Sina Hartert.

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