In a message to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Father José Arieira de Carvalho, a Portuguese Comboni priest who has been living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for more than a decade, reported on the critical situation in the north-eastern part of the Congo “where rebel groups roam across the region, looting and murdering.”
On Friday 30 October, for example, the village of Lisasa in the Beni region of the province of North Kivu became the setting for a violent attack which is believed to have been carried out by armed groups. The attack claimed at least 21 lives, including that of catechist Richard Kisusi. There are reports that a Catholic church was defiled, several houses were burned down and a medical post was looted.
Mgr. Sikuli Paluku, Bishop of Butembo-Beni, called upon the forces of the United Nations stationed in the region to protect the civilian population against attacks. In view of the escalating violence, the need for protection is becoming ever more pressing. The vast underground treasures that can be found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have transformed certain regions of the country into a battleground for violent factions, bringing even more hardship and suffering to the people.
Kanyaruchinya camp for displaced in Goma. Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.
Last year, the Bishops of the Ecclesiastical province of Bukavu, which is comprised of six dioceses in these regions, expressed their alarm at the prevailing conditions but also warned against making interpretations that are too simple. “We [are] of the opinion that the fighting within the communities on a national level is possibly being used as a pretext to hide a conspiracy between internal and external players to obscure the ruthless exploitation of natural resources (mining, oil, woodland, land).”
The Archbishop of Kinshasa, Mgr. Fridolin Ambongo, who was recently appointed to the College of Cardinals, spoke at an ACN event held in Paris in 2019 about the daily violence and the unjust distribution of wealth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: “I am here as a witness of the torment of a people, my people, who are asking only for the right to live in dignity. Unfortunately, this situation has been going on for years,” Mgr. Ambongo said and then drew attention to the paradox of the Congo as an “immensely rich country” which, however, “is at the mercy of the evil heart of humanity. Large corporations are acting like predators.”
Bishop Fridolin Ambongo, bishop of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo at Night of the Witnesses - Paris 2019. Credit: © Solène Perrot /ACN.
“The Church, however,” the Archbishop continued, “has decided to support those who are suffering. And the Lord hears the cries of those who are suffering better than the most beautiful music of the powerful.” His plea for solidarity with his people is still relevant today. “I am here among you to ask you to continue to support us in our fight for more dignity for the Congolese people. I implore you to pray for all humanity because I know that what is happening in the Congo is comparable to the situation in many other countries of the world, particularly in Africa.”
ACN has been supporting priest and seminarian training in the diocese of Butembo-Beni for more than 25 years.