Democratic Republic of the Congo: Mystery of faith in a broken land
By Aleksandra Szymczak
Between 16th and 29th of August 2016 a delegation from the Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) travelled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The reason of the trip was to see what are the most urgent needs in Kivu, on the Eastern side of the country, which is a priority region for the charity in the DRC.
(Delegation of Aid to the Church in Need with the Sisters of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary. Fr Martin Barta (Ecclesiastical Assistant of ACN), Regina Lynch (Project Director at ACN), Christine du Coudray (Project officer for the Africa I section at ACN) © Aid to the Church in Need)
Q) How does the situation look like in the Democratic Republic of the Congo right now?
A) Regina Lynch:: For the past 20 years it has been a place of war “on and off”. According to the International Red Cross about 5.4 million people have died in the wars or from the consequences of them. The problem is that few people are aware of what is happening there, nobody really speaks about it. There has been no or very little development of the region. In some places they are even going backwards. For example, roads that were once in a good condition now require twice as long to be travelled. In 2012 Congo had the lowest rate of human development index of the United Nations.
Q) Which experiences during your trip to DRC saddened you the most?
A) Fr Martin Barta: There is a very low sense of security, people are afraid to go out to the countryside, you usually can’t drive out of the city after 6 pm because you risk to be attacked or kidnapped by various armed groups. Even in the city there is always the danger of being high-jacked or simply shot, as we heard from people, who lived there.
Regina Lynch: Because of kidnappings, we were also discouraged in the Goma region to go outside the city. Specially being foreigners we were considered potential targets. In the last 9 years 7 priests have been killed. So the question of violence and insecurity dominates every conversation.
Also in Goma we have visited the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary. One of them, Sister Georgette has been there for 3 years now. She started working with young single mothers. In the region there are very many internally displaced people. What happens is that the women go to the forest to collect the wood for the fire for cooking, and there they are attacked and raped. And these young women are then not accepted by their families. So Sister Georgette takes them in with the babies and she keeps them there for about a year in order that she can teach them some sort of a small trade. She also tries to help them deal with the trauma by reading the Lectio Divina with them. But in the meantime she also ended up having 80 orphans who have been rejected by their families or whom the sisters found on the street. They are doing their best to help. At the moment they rent a house but they need a place of their own place. If the Church wasn’t there, I don’t know who would look after these women and children… So Sister Georgette takes them in with the babies and she keeps them there for about a year so that the women can be taught a small trade.
(A sister helps a mother and malnourished child in DRC © Aid to the Church in Need)
Q) Which experiences during your trip to DRC were the most beautiful ones?
A) Regina Lynch: One of the beautiful experiences for me was the Golden Jubilee celebration of the Daughters of Resurrection in Bukavu. What they have done in 50 years, to see how much they are appreciated by the local population, they are really very close to the poorest of the poor. At the same time they are very active pastorally, they are very good at doing catechetical work. It is very nice to see how the group of some simple girls grew into a congregation of 216 sisters, who despite the difficult times they have been through and the violence against them, are very motivated.
A) Fr Martin Barta: For me it was the mystery of faith. To see how dangerous it is for the missionaries but also for the people to live in certain parts of this region and how they go through difficulties without despairing. How the people can deal with the circumstances, in which people in the Western World would be completely broken, they wouldn’t bear it... People there tend to speak about their pain and sorrows with sense of composure, we never saw anybody crying. But seeing them praying and dancing during the Holy Mass, it was as if they would put all their great emotional distress into it... This expression of faith, which overcomes these unhuman conditions, was very strong for me.
Another amazing experience for both of us was in Goma. There is a prison which was built at the time of the Belgian colony. It is about 70 years old and was built for 150 people. Now there are more than 2,000. Sister Kathrin from the German Institute of St. Bonifatius, who visits the prison couple of times a week, took us there with her. We didn’t imagine what it was going to be like. The guards let us enter and suddenly we realized we were inside the prison. There were no cells, no barriers; we were literally in the middle of the prison. And the sister was walking like an innocent lamb among the prisoners, without any apparent concern for the danger of her situation. The way how the sister treated the prisoners and her natural authority impressed me a lot. How the sister’s dedication can have such an influence on those men who respect her so much. She was a nurse treating wounds and brought food to the prisoners. Sister Kathrin is also trying to get out of this prison those people who spent many years there without being ever accused of anything.
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 172 languages and 50 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
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