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Africa

 

ACN Feature – Covid19: What will become of Africa?

27.03.2020 in ACN Feature, ACN International, Africa

Central African Republic

“Don’t abandon Africa” – Father Gaetán Kabasha’s dramatic appeal on the Covid-19 epidemic

Letter from Father  translated from Father Gaetán Kabasha to the world and Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)

 Original Portuguese, ACN Portugal
to English, Felipe Bezerra, ACN Canada and adapted by ACN Canada
Published on the web March 27,2020

“Do not abandon Africa, remain very attentive and when the complicated situation arrives in these countries, be willing to reach out to help,” asks Father Gaetán Kabasha of all people in the face of the dramatic evolution that Covid 19 may take on this continent of more than a billion souls.

The priest sent a video message to the ACN office in Lisbon, Portugal,  appealing for everyone’s solidarity with the victims of this pandemic. – A native of Rwanda and ordained a priest in the Central African Republic and currently living in Madrid where, as a chaplain at the San Carlos Hospital, Father Gaetán is dealing daily with patients infected with Covid19  “It is very complicated, there are a lot of patients and a lot of stress.”

“If the pandemic cannot be controlled in countries with many economic and health means, I don’t know how it can be controlled if it reaches Africa.”

This experience also allows him to draw a comparison with what may happen in the short term in Africa. He doesn’t hide his concern. “As an African, I am also very concerned about our countries, because if the pandemic cannot be controlled in countries with many economic and health means, I don’t know how it can be controlled if it reaches Africa.”

With the figures being updated almost every hour, it is difficult to understand the scale of this pandemic in Africa, with more than a thousand confirmed cases in about forty countries. But this data can be illusory, Father Gaetán underlines in his message sent to ACN.

“It is true that there are very few cases and that we can still control them, but as we saw here in Europe, everything starts with a case and little by little it grows, multiplying until it gets out of control,” says the chaplain of the Madrid hospital. “It is important for African countries to take action before the situation is too difficult, because really this virus that is transmitted in an incredible way can cause a catastrophe in African countries. I think of the suburbs of big capitals or cities in Africa … ”

 

 

A continent in danger

Father Gaetán, who was in Portugal last November invited by ACN in Portugal, knows like few what suffering, persecution and life means in refugee camps.

The knowledge of this reality leads him to look now at the African continent to conclude that the fight against the coronavirus can be extremely difficult. And he explains why: “Because it is said that people have to isolate themselves and [in Africa] there are people who have nowhere to isolate themselves. There are thousands of people who live on the street, who live day to day and who get something to eat because they go out on the street. If the authorities decide to isolate themselves, these thousands of people will not know where to isolate themselves and, if they find somewhere, they will not be able to survive.”

In the face of this frightening reality, there is hope that scientists will be able to find the solution to the pandemic before it hits the African continent. “We are praying a lot that this situation that I am seeing in Spain, that is happening in Italy and that can happen in other European countries, does not reach Africa before the remedy is discovered,”says Father Gaetán Kabasha.

All around the world, the members of the Catholic Church are actively comforting people most touched by this pandemic.  In many countries Sisters are nurses, they manage the dispensaries, the homes for the elderly and other health related institutions.  Helping them through this crisis means supporting the presence of the Church for the weakest members of society. Aid to the Church in Need around the world will continue to support the Church in every way possible.

Thank you for continuing your support, in any way you find possible.

ACN News, Cameroon: Boko Haram – “ the beast of the Apocalypse”

27.01.2020 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Africa, By Maria Lozano, Cameroon, Nigeria

Cameroon

Boko Haram – “ the beast of the Apocalypse”

The toll of daily attacks on Cameroon’s villages bordering on Nigeria

By Maria Lozano, ACN International
Adapted for ACN Canada by Mario Bard and Amanda Griffin

Published on the web January 27, 2020

 

Boko Haram is like the beast of the Apocalypse, or a many-headed Hydra; whenever you cut off one of its heads, it simply seems to grow another,” says Bishop Bruno Ateba of the diocese of Maroua-Mokolo in northern Cameroon, while speaking to representatives of the international Catholic pastoral pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International).

 

Nearing the end of 2015, the Nigerian government announced that the terrorist group called Boko Haram – born in Nigeria in 2002 and radicalized in 2009 – had finally been defeated.

However, according to information received by ACN, there is every indication that the group has simply shifted its sphere of operations to the more rural areas of Nigeria and even extended it into the border regions of Cameroon and Lake Chad. “In the villages of Borno State in Nigeria, and throughout the border regions of Cameroon, not a day passes without news of attacks and incursions by the terrorists. The abductions and executions of the country-people have become a veritable reign of terror and a source of deep psychosis among the population,” Bishop Bruno insists.

Since just after this past Christmas, a video has publicly circulated showing the beheading of 11 people in Nigeria. Responsibility for this atrocity has been claimed by the so-called Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA), one of the two factions into which Boko Haram split in 2016.

At almost the same time, Bishop Barthélemy Yaouda Hourgo of Yaouga in Cameroon, native to a village close to the Nigeria border, wrote the following alarming message to ACN: “My birthplace, the village of Blablim, no longer exists! The terrorists have murdered a young man of my family and totally devastated the entire village, including the house I was born in. Everybody, with the exception of the sick and elderly, was forced to flee to Mora, 10 miles (17 km) away. It will be impossible now to gather in the cotton harvest. Right now the weather is very cold in this area. Please pray for all those who are having to sleep outside in the inclement weather at this time the year.”

 

Terrorism, or organized crime?

Destruction, pillaging, robbery and kidnappings are the hallmarks of this terrorist group’s activity. According to senior figures in the Nigerian army, the jihadist Islamic group has lost its power and broken up into organized criminal gangs. Lieutenant-General Tukur Yusufu Buratai, the current Chief of Staff of the Nigerian army, indicated on September 19, 2019 that “the mode of operation of these elements is pure criminality for personal gain. It is common knowledge that the criminals no longer pretend to be championing any cause other than the quest for materialism as manifested in murder and terror of hapless people.”

At the same time, he urged the Nigerian people to refrain from “glorifying these criminals by calling them by any name other than “criminals” “rapists” “kidnappers” “armed robbers” and “murderers.”

According to the data from the Nigeria Security Tracker, although more than 36,000 people have died since 2012 as a result of these conflicts, including civilians, soldiers and terrorists, the number of victims in Nigeria has now fallen sharply, in comparison with the horrific numbers recorded in 2014 and 2015.

This positive result has been due in part to the defensive efforts of the multi-national military forces, which in addition to the Nigerian army include also those of Cameroon, Niger and Chad. According to the independent International Crisis Group, in Cameroon alone an army of over 7,000 soldiers was deployed during two important military operations, including units of the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR), an elite army corp.

 

A more violent beast re-emerges

Nevertheless, although in recent years these Armed Forces have effectively prevented the conventional attacks previously launched by Boko Haram, they have not succeeded in cutting off the movement at its roots; instead it appears that a new generation of militants is now posing a fresh threat. “The poverty and insecurity faced by people in the rural areas and the lack of prospects for young people makes them an easy target for manipulation by the jihadists,” Bishop Ateba confirms.

According to data supplied by Human Rights Watch, the conflict between Boko Haram and the international armed forces has led to the displacement of over 270,000 people within the country since 2014. The armed Islamist Boko Haram group apparently carried out over 100 attacks in Cameroon during 2019, killing more than a hundred civilians.

“Just at the moment when people thought that the beast of Boko Haram had been completely decapitated, the horror has resurfaced in northern Cameroon. Within my own diocese there have been 13 attacks in the last weeks. One church was burnt down on the feast of the Epiphany. We are still investigating who was behind the incident, but everything points to a terrorist attack,” Bishop Bruno explains.

ACN Project of the Week Democratic Republic of the Congo

09.01.2020 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

ACN Project of the Week

Democratic Republic of the Congo


Two-year’s of support for training for 10 catechists

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as in almost every African country, catechists play a vital role in passing on the faith. Church life in the diocese of Lolo, in the north of the country, would practically grind to a halt were it not for the catechists living and working alongside the faithful in the villages and encouraging them to gather together for prayer and study of their faith.

Many of these parishes cover vast areas including numerous, often very difficult of access, villages. The handful of priests available have to cover long distances on foot, sometimes wading through waist-high streams, in order to reach the people in the villages. Hence it is impossible to them to visit as often as they would need to if they want to teach and guide the faithful. But the lay catechists are always on hand which says everything about how important they are!

Training over a two-year period

In the diocese of Lolo there is a catechetical centre where the lay catechists can receive solid training for this precious service they offer to diocesan life, and also regularly update and refresh their knowledge. The basic training for these catechists lasts two years. Since they generally already have a family, they can go with them. So the diocese also provides basic accommodation for the whole family.

While the fathers are studying, their children also attend school, the diocese covering the cost and providing teaching materials and school uniforms as well. And at the same time the mothers also follow a range of courses, for example in needlework, domestic science, reading and writing and also basic courses in Bible studies and morality.

The aim is to provide the future catechists with both a theoretical and a practical training in pastoral studies and proclaiming the Catholic faith. For Bishop Jean Bertin Nadonye Ndongo the training of his catechists is a project dear to his heart and he is quite sure that their improved formation has given a “new impetus“ to the diocese and been a “source of inspiration“ to them all. But the need for well-trained catechists is still acute, he says, and this is why he has asked our help for the training of 10 more catechists and their families. We have promised him $19,500.

ACN Project of the Week: Subsistence Support for Religious Sisters in Benin

05.12.2019 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Africa, Benin, Religious formation

Benin

Subsistence Support for Religious Sisters

Sister Helène and Sister Epiphanie, both from Togo, belong to the Congregation of the Missionary Catechetical Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart. Since July 2018, they have been living and working in Parakou, a large and quickly developing town, situated in northern Benin. Many different cultural and ethnic groups make up the population of Parakou, with a Muslim majority.

 

Since Parakou is at the centre of an important intersection and is easily accessible, the congregation established its formation house here in 1997, a place where the congregation’s young Sisters receive their training. Currently there are five young religious in the program. All are from poor African families, most are from faraway and cannot hope to be supported by their families – nor the local parishes which cannot afford to support their work despite the vital contribution they make. For example, instructing young people and adults in the Faith, or visiting the sick and elderly and bringing them Holy Communion.

ACN decided to step in and help. We are proposing subsistence support of $3,000 for the coming year for Sister Helène and Sister Epiphanie to sustain them in their work of providing a sound formation for the younger sisters.

 

Are you inspired by this project? To give and make another similar project a success – click above and select: Project of the Week.

Ghana, a Success Story: A church for the people of Nkontrodo

25.11.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Ghana

Ghana

A Success Story: A church for the people of Nkontrodo

 

The town of Nkontrodo is one of eight smaller communities belonging to the parish of Saint Francis in Elmina. The town, located in the south of Ghana, has around 200 actively practicing Catholics who regularly attend Holy Mass and play an active part in Church life.

 

For many years the people of Nkontrodo have been waiting for a church of their very own. Only recently did Holy Mass and other forms of worship and liturgical services move from being celebrated in the dining hall of a local school. Not only was it a less than fitting setting for the celebration of the Eucharist, but the parish also had to negotiate with the school for its use for every event. Inevitably, there were constant clashes and conflicts in scheduling. Moreover, the town already had eight different sectarian groups and Pentecostalist groups, all of whom already had their own, solidly built places of worship, making it a real danger that members of the Catholic faithful might leave to join these groups out of sheer frustration with the situation.

 

To “pray” day and night

Father Martino Corazzin, their parish priest, had constantly exhorted the faithful to “pray day and night, with faith and trust, and the Lord will hear your prayers and touch the hearts of those who are able to help us!” They were not left disappointed.

 

Thanks to the generosity of our benefactors we were able to contribute $75,000 to bring the dream of the Catholic faithful at last, into reality. In August 2019, the new church was finally consecrated. We helped with an initial contribution of $45,000, but the construction work ran into problems because of difficult soil conditions and other unexpected complications, hiking the cost higher than originally planned for. Thanks again to our generous benefactors, we made another contribution, this time of $30,000.

 

Father Martino has written to thank us: “We are all extremely happy and grateful to you for your generous support and for the confidence you have placed in us, and above all for the fact that you have made our dream come true. We ask God to bless you and the many benefactors who have helped us. The faithful of the parish of Saint Anne in Nkontrodo have also asked me to thank you on their behalf and they have promised to remember you in their prayers, especially in the celebration of the Eucharist. They also asked me to tell you that more and more people are now coming to our church. And it is true, we are already seeing new faces.”

Are you inspired by this project? To give and make another similar project a success – click above and select: Project of the Week.

ACN Project of the Week – Post flooding, Malawi receives help from ACN

09.10.2019 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Emergency Aid, Malawi

Malawi

 

Mission accomplished! Emergency aid following severe flooding

 

In March 2019 many areas of southern Malawi– a country located on the border between southern Africa and East Africa— were struck by torrential rainfall which continued for days on end resulting in devastating floods  which affected close to 1 million inhabitants in 16 of the 28 districts of the country.

 

 

The toll it took: Close to 80,000 people lost their homes, over 500 people were injured and some 60 lost their lives. Adding to the devastation, houses, fields, roads and bridges were also damaged or destroyed

Malawi, already has its share of difficulties as it is already one of the poorest nations in the world. And,  according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as reported in Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)  Religious Freedom Report “thousands of refugees have come to Malawi from Mozambique in recent years, fleeing fighting between the Mozambican government and rebels. The provision of care for refugees also presents a challenge for Malawi’s Churches and religious communities in social as well as pastoral terms. Experience shows that religious tensions often worsen when different faith groups live in close proximity in extreme poverty.”

Where we came in

Despite the reality in the country, the Catholic Church was on the ground immediately, ready with spiritual and moral support. But given the circumstances there was also a very real need for food, clothing, blankets and temporary shelters. Every day articles like cooking utensils and water purification systems to prevent the spread of diseases were also needed at a minimum.

 

ACN also responded immediately. Thanks to the generosity of our benefactors, we were able to provide $30,000 in emergency aid. Our heartfelt thanks to all of you who contributed and prayed for the relief effort in Malawi!

 

 

ACN Project of the Week: A youth centre in Benin

19.09.2019 in Benin, Journey with ACN

Benin

An Evangelization Centre for Youth

In Benin, there is a constant thirst and need for the deepening of the Catholic faith. Whereas the north of Benin is largely Muslim and Christians are only a small minority, in the south of the country the population consists mainly of Christians and of members of traditional African pagan religions.

Voodoo is a widely practiced religion and superstition is widespread – even among many Christians.

 

Because of the situation, religious formation is one of the highest priorities for the local Church. For this reason, , a special school of evangelization was established in 2014 for young people aged between 18 and 30. The school is located in Cotonou, which is the economic and administrative – though not official – capital of the country and also the seat of government, and which sits in the far south of the country on the Atlantic coast. The project is is known as the Jeunesse Bonheur“ ( “Happy Youth”) project and is regularly supported by ACN. It is derived from the well-known “Jeunesse Lumière” project in France, initially established by the well-known priest, Daniel Ange. The youth involved spend a full year living their faith together, getting to know it better and discovering how to pass it on to others – and with joy.

Among their other activities, these young people go into the schools and visit the families, people in prison and the elderly, and share their faith with all who are willing to listen.

The School

This school of evangelization makes the Church in Benin something of a pioneer in Africa. And since 2014 young people have been able to take part in its various programs. It has borne many visible and tangible fruits – for example, out of the young people who took part in the first four years of its program, no fewer than 12 have since entered the seminary and five, a religious order. Several have gone on to establish their own Christian families, while others have found work within the Church sphere and now play an active role in its life.

 

However, the school was initially established on a provisional basis and in temporary conditions doing nothing  to dampen the enthusiasm of those involved, but over the long term the centre does need suitable and appropriate premises, so that it can accommodate more participants. It is to be expected that in future young people will come from other African countries to take part in the program.   With this possibility in mind, a new building is being built progressively, in stages. The first section, which is currently under construction, is the accommodation block for the young men.

ACN has promised $75,000 towards the realization of the project!  We would love to have your help in fulfilling it!

 

Are you inspired by this project? To give and make another similar project a success – click above and select: Project of the Week.

ACN Interview – Archbishop Ilario Antoniazzi of Tunis, Tunisia

05.07.2019 in ACN Interview, ACN Intl, By Maria Lozano, Tunisia

ACN INTERVIEW – Tunisia

Our mission here is to bear witness

The ancient city of Carthage, in the era of the Phoenicians – where modern Tunis stands today – was the city that saw the greatest number of martyrs of the Church after Rome. Now, in the 21st century, it has become a “very fragile” Church, according to Archbishop Ilario Antoniazzi of Tunis. He was speaking in an interview with Maria Lozano, during a visit to the  headquarters of the international Catholic pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International).

* It should be noted that this interview was done prior to the suicide bombings of June 27 which claimed one life and injured eight in central Tunis.

 

by Maria Lozano , for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on the website July 7, 2019

 

ACN: What is the situation in Tunisia today, eight years after the so-called “Arab Spring”?

P: The “Arab Spring” raised high hopes of greater freedom and prosperity, but it lacked a leader who could tell the people how to achieve this. That is why many people have become disillusioned. People today want jobs and security to give them a sense of greater peace and serenity, since for many people the future seems uncertain. As far as the situation of the Church is concerned, the truth is that we cannot complain. We can do what we want within the Church and go wherever we wish without asking permission. We are free, and that is a good thing.

 

ACN: What you mean when you say that you are free? What aspects are you referring to, given that the field of action for the Church is very limited?

We are governed by a modus vivendi, the accord signed in 1964 between the Holy See and Tunisia during the presidency of Habib Bourguiba. Prior to that the French army had been expelled from Tunisia. The Church was viewed as the “long arm” of France, the colonial power. It was for this reason that almost all the property of the Church was confiscated in Tunisia. We had 125 churches, and today we have just four. That left the Church in a fragile state, but at the same time it did do one thing for us: our faith became stronger. Being unable to count on the support of men and having nothing, we are compelled to turn to God and to call on him for everything we need and ask him to give the strength to work in the situation in which we currently find ourselves, in Tunisia. Our modus vivendi does have certain negative aspects as far as the Church is concerned, but at the same time it has forced her to concentrate on the essential, on the spiritual.

 

We had 125 churches, and today we have just four.

ACN: Given that 99% of the population is Muslim, the Church is in a very delicate situation. What does the Church do in your country?

P: We are simply missionaries. The missionary is someone who witnesses to the presence of Christ where He is not known. In Tunisia Christ is not known. All the Christians are foreigners – either students coming for the most part from sub-Saharan Africa or else entrepreneurs who have come to work in Tunisia. We have to support them and welcome them to the best of our ability, something that is not easy, because there are no church bells to hear. All the Church activities have to take place inside the churches; there is nothing to see from the outside. It is not easy to make contact with them, but once we do manage to do so they play an active part in the Church in Tunisia. As a result we number between 15,000 and 20,000 Christians. It is not easy to obtain statistics because, for example, the students leave once they have finished their studies and other students arrive. According to our own calculations we lose around one quarter of our faithful each year, but at the same time another quarter arrives. This means in effect that every four years the Catholic community we serve is a completely new one. As a result it is not easy to establish long-term projects within the Church, or with the Church, because those who begin such a project almost never complete it, while those who are newly arrived do not know what it’s all about. Hence there is no stability, and this is another additional difficulty for our Church.

I am the only bishop in Tunisia, because, little by little, Tunisia abandoned the Christian faith and today the population is entirely Muslim.

 

ACN: But Tunisia has Christian roots! Should that not be something seen and felt?

P: In Tunisia they were saying Mass in Latin even before they were doing so in Rome. Christianity arrived in Tunisia in the earliest centuries of the Church. We need only think of Saint Cyprian, Saint Augustine or all the martyrs we have had in Tunisia. After Rome, the city that gave the highest number of martyrs to the Church was Carthage, in other words Tunis. The country had some 120 bishops, and the bishop of Carthage was regarded as the Primate of Africa, with authority over all the bishops of Africa. Of course we no longer have 120 bishops today. I am the only bishop in Tunisia, because, little by little, Tunisia abandoned the Christian faith and today the population is entirely Muslim.

 

ACN: We cannot see the future of course, but some people think that in a hundred or two hundred years Europe itself may have lost the Faith and be living in a situation like that in North Africa. What do you think we can do to avoid such a situation happening?

P: It is true that Europe is in danger. However, not because the Muslims have invaded, but because we no longer attach sufficient importance to the faith that we do have. If we look at the Muslims and the way they live, on the other hand, on the day of prayer everybody goes to the mosque. In our countries the churches are empty. The Muslims have children, but the Christians have fewer and fewer. Little by little, we are committing suicide for lack of believers, for lack of children. You only have to look at our churches in Europe; the majority of those praying there are aged 60 or over. Where are the young people?

 

ACN: Another factor is the shortage of priests. In Europe the average age of priests is also increasing. What is the situation like in your country?

P: I am quite possibly the only bishop in the world who is complaining that his priests are too young. Currently, among my priests there are two or three who are aged around 90. But of all the rest the oldest priest is 45 years old. We don’t have enough older priests who have a historical knowledge of Tunisia, of its society, of the Church and everything else. That is something we lack. The same is true of their work in supporting the religious sisters, and other priests… There is a need for a priest to have a degree of religious and pastoral experience.

There are no Tunisian priests.

 

ACN: Is it true that in Tunisia all the religious sisters and all the priests are missionaries who have come here from outside?

P: Yes. There are no Tunisian priests. The religious sisters and the priests belong to various different congregations, and most of them come here for a missionary stay of 5 to 10 years and then return to their home countries. We lack a permanent presence of our priests.

 

ACN: Caritas plays an important role here, and not only for the Christians…

P: Caritas is not simply a “movement” within the Church, something that is a part of the Church. For us Caritas is the Church. This represents a great responsibility. With its help, everything we do can actually reach the families, reach society, where no priest or religious can go. Hence Caritas is seen as the “missionary” of the Church. It witnesses to Christ, to a Christ who loves, who helps people, through all the individuals working with Caritas. When someone comes to us, we never ask him about his religion but only about his troubles. Whether the person is a Christian or not is something of no importance to Caritas. We do have Christians; those who come to us are above all Africans, but there are also many Tunisians. We work in areas of Tunis that are 100% Muslim, and we are there to help the women to learn a trade, such as making sweets and pastries for example, so that they can lead an independent life. Once they have been trained in this way they can earn a living and live a more dignified life.

 

ACN: What would you like to say to the Aid to the Church in Need benefactors? What can we do for Tunisia, to help you in your work as a bishop?

P: We have a Church that is fragile, because its activities are very limited, fragile, too, on account of our lack of means of subsistence, since everything we once had has been taken from us. And equally because for everything we need, we have to ask help from abroad. ACN is extremely important for us in enabling us to continue our work and our apostolate, above all among this people, who need our witness. Simply being there is to bear witness for Christ, through our own lives and not simply by words. It means showing by our conduct who Christ is, a Christ who loves, a Christ who forgives. The Tunisians will never have a Bible in their homes, but we are the Gospel that they can read, through the way we behave. And all the aid we get from ACN enables us to bear witness, by our lives, to who Christ is. In the end it is He who gives the grace that touches hearts, not us. I want to thank ACN for all the aid you are giving us. Because this is helping us to stay on our feet, helping us to continue our mission.

 

 

ACN Interview – ACN Head of section sheds light on the DRC, Africa

06.06.2019 in ACN PRESS, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Africa, By Maria Lozano, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Religious freedom

DRC: “What ACN offers, no other organization does”

On her return from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where she visited the Catholic dioceses of the Kasai region, Christine du Coudray, ACN’s section head for this country, reported on the situation in the region and gave her impressions.

 Interview conducted by Maria Lozano, ACN International

Published to web – June 6, 2019

 

Can you give us a description of the overall situation in the country?

This was the first time I had visited the Kasai region of this immense country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, four times the size of France in area. You’re walking on land rich in mineral wealth of every kind – diamonds, gold, minerals of all kinds, petroleum and so forth, yet the infrastructure is wrecked. This particular region, which I spent two weeks travelling, is particularly isolated, and some areas are isolated enclaves. In the country as a whole, the state of the roads, where they exist at all, is catastrophic, but I really found this particular region to be in a state of complete desolation. Historically, this was a privileged region during the time of King Leopold II, the King of the Belgians, who founded the Congo Free State in 1885. He made it his shop window and gave hundreds of hectares of land to the Catholic Church, which he wanted to see established in the country. The Scheutist Fathers (Missionaries of the Immaculate Heart of Mary) in particular were there in numbers, and in every diocese one can still see today the remains of the buildings built by these missionaries. Later the tables were turned, and the region was punished after independence, under the regime of Mobutu and afterwards, suffering from under-investment and generally abandoned to its fate. The structures are falling apart. The Kivu region, on the frontier with Rwanda, which I know better, is suffering from still worse conflicts, but benefits from having more and better structures.

The situation you describe sounds pretty desperate. How were the people you met on the spot living?

What struck me was the situation of complete abandonment on the one hand, yet on the other hand the local people displayed incredible energy in coping with the situation. I’m thinking of the young people who set out, sometimes from Lake Tanganyika, in the extreme east of the DRC, pushing their bicycles with loads of up to 500 kg of goods piled on them which they plan to sell on the other side of the country. They walk for days and nights like this on the potholed roads, helping each other as they go. I met with one of these young men, who explained to me that he had managed to save up enough for a brand-new bicycle, so that he could also become a “bayanda” – that’s the name they give to these young human beasts of burden – and that he was going to have to make still more savings in order to be able to change his wheels, so that he could carry still heavier loads.

After years as leader of the country, Joseph Kabila finally decided not to stand for the presidential elections last December, partly under pressure from the strong opposition, particularly on the part of the Church. How was this change of decision received by the Catholic leadership in the DRC?

Within the Catholic Bishops’ Conference there was some fairly lively discussion, and this body, which had deployed thousands of observers in the polling stations around the country, finally published a communique stating that in its view the election of the new president, Felix Tshisekedi, had not been in accordance with the “truth of the ballot.” They made it clear that they were pleased to see the political transition, but at the same time considered that the candidate declared as the victor was not necessarily the person who had received the most votes according to their own observations. But the most important thing to be borne in mind was that this change in the head of state is a historical one and that the transition took place almost without any violence. In January everyone had expected that the announcement of the results by the electoral commission would trigger an explosion of violence, and observers continue to be surprised that there has not been. That said, Joseph Kabila is still very much a part of the political scene and the present “truce” is a fragile one.

What is the situation of the Catholic Church, both in the country and within this particular region?

In the Kasai region there are eight dioceses, but for the moment there are only seven bishops, because the diocese of Kabinda is in a state of transition. Of these eight dioceses three, in my view, are in a particularly bad way, namely Kabinda, Mweka and Kole. In addition to its own internal problems, the Church here has to make up for the deficiencies of the state and is at the forefront of all the civic activities – social, political, development and so forth. For example, the town of Kabinda suffers from a terrible problem of soil erosion – it is literally in danger of collapsing – and it is the diocese that is leading the efforts to try and resolve this problem.

What particularly impressed you during this trip?

On the one hand it was the fact that a region so rich in diamonds could be suffering such poverty, yet on the other hand it was the commitment of many of the priests, who are doing exceptional work. I’m thinking of Father Apollinaire Cibaka and his association, which he founded and which is doing wonderful work. They have built 62 schools, four orphanages and four health centres, one of which has its own operating theatre and the regular support of Spanish doctors; then the pastoral work with albino children, helping them to be recognized in their own right, the work with abandoned children or street children, with teenage mothers and the programs for the advancement of women. The construction of an enclosure wall around the local prison, so that the prisoners do not have to be locked up 24 hours a day in a dark, unlit building, the work for the protection of the environment, including the planting of 30,000 trees… We helped Abbé Apollinaire to complete his studies for a doctorate in Spain, and on his return we helped him to set up a radio station, which is an authoritative voice in the local society. So despite the isolation, despite the difficulties, the courage and energy of the people are impressive and admirable. That is why a visit like this one is so very important.

And what would you say was the most difficult moment?

I was horrified to learn that, just a few hours after our visit there, the philosophy seminary in Kabwe had been attacked and vandalized. This is an indication of the fragile situation of the local Church.

What kind of aid is ACN supplying to the Democratic Republic of Congo?

Given the many issues requiring assistance, we are liaising closely with the bishops in order to decide with them on their various projects and assess their priorities in light of our resources. The important thing is that, following our visit, we can provide our aid rapidly. We are concentrating our support on the spiritual formation of the priests and on their living conditions, and likewise on the formation of religious sisters and catechists and the implementation of the teachings of Pope St John Paul II in regard to the family.

What kind of aid is ACN giving to the priests and seminarians?

We want to do all we can so that the Church here can have holy priests. A bishop once said to me, “What ACN offers, is something no other organization offers.” The structures vary greatly from one seminary to another. For example, in the philosophy college in Kabwe there are no toilets, no showers, and the septic tank is blocked up. It is hard to leave them in conditions like that. The seminarians only eat meat once a term.

As to the formation of the future priests, which is truly one of the priorities of ACN, we think that this depends on the formation of the teaching staff in the seminaries. And so we are sending entire teams of trainers for a five-week training course in Rome each summer. Quite apart from the fact that they can in this way live the experience of the universal Church, together with other trainers from all over the world, they learn to live, work and pray together there. Their testimonies of the sense of satisfaction and spiritual renewal there make for moving reading.

As far as their living conditions are concerned, we are providing vehicles to enable the local Church to reach the furthest corners of their dioceses. And sometimes even just a moped will help priests to travel much further than they can ever do on foot. We are also helping the priests with Mass stipends and contributing to the renovation and improvement of their presbyteries, which are frequently in a shocking state and which they scarcely dare to show us.

But you have also mentioned the support for religious brothers and sisters. What form does this aid actually take?

We are also very responsive to the needs of the religious, and especially the contemplative religious, who play a major role in the growth of the Church, thanks to their presence and their prayer. I visited the communities of the contemplative Poor Clare sisters in Mbuji-Mayi and Kabinda. They are a French foundation, formerly supported by their mother house, but today totally dependent on their own resources. It is not easy to provide the daily necessities for 40 religious sisters, including the novices and the postulants. They have a vegetable garden, they rear pigs and poultry, they have a host baking workshop. And they also have a guest house, offering a place of silence and prayer that is open to all. Their convent is some way from the town of Mbujimayi, and sometimes the sisters need hospital care. And there is also necessary shopping to be done, for which they need a robust 4×4 vehicle which we are hoping to be able to help them with.

Does ACN have any projects linked to the various internal wars and conflicts within the country?

Ever since 2016 the Kasaï region has been the theatre of tribal violence of exceptional cruelty; even the ethnologists are puzzled by these outbreaks of brutality, which mingle political issues with fetishist pagan beliefs. It is thought that the Kamwina Nsapu movement alone may have claimed between 4,000 and 23,000 victims, leaving some 1.4 million people uprooted and homeless as a result. The conflict suddenly came to an end with the election of the new president in January 2019, who is a son of the region. But the consequences are enormous, whether visible or invisible.

The visible scars can be seen because, for example, the diocesan structures in Luebo became the target – with the Bishop’s house set on fire, the convent of the sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the cathedral both burnt out after first being looted, the presbytery destroyed, the novice house and the propaedeutic seminary both burnt to ashes, official buildings ransacked and looted, many people with their throats cut… Since June 2017 the Bishop has had to take refuge in the parish of Ndeseka. We have promised to help rebuild his diocesan chancery and the convent of the sisters, whose role is so important in helping the traumatized population.

The invisible wounds are in people’s hearts, but they are going to need a long-term program of re-integration for people of all ages – some of the killers were children of seven years old, who after just having served Mass beheaded as the people coming out of the church, they were under the effect of drugs! In light of these events of such enormous and still “unexplained” violence, the Catholic Church now needs to reconsider its pastoral approach and work for an in-depth evangelization, so that Christ may truly reign in people’s hearts through the grace of a profound and personal encounter. ACN’s mission is to accompany the local Church in this new evangelization.

ACN Project of the Week : Transportation project in RDC

22.05.2019 in Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

ACN Project of the Week in 

Democratic Republic of Congo  

 

Repairing essential transportation for travel on the Congo River

 

The diocese of Lisala is one of the oldest and – with an area of over 67,600 km² –one of the most geographically extensive in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Situated in the north of the country, in the Congo basin, it is crisscrossed by the Congo River and its many tributaries making the waterways absolutely vital to the life of the Church.

The diocesan river boat, called: the Magnificat, is of crucial importance to pastoral outreach. But, sadly, the vessel was severely damaged in September 2018 while travelling downriver towards Kinshasa. Surprised by a sudden storm and unable to moor safely, it was flung against a large tree projecting it into the water causing a huge hole to tear on its side. Fortunately, the people on the boat were able to evacuate safely, but the boat sank almost completely. Needless to say, the material damage was extensive and the rescue campaign difficult. One of the priests and other helpers had to paddle across the river to reach the accident site.

In need of expertise

Initially, they attempted to repair the boat themselves and get it underway again, but it soon became clear that the whole process would be much more difficult than they had imagined and would require specialist materials and expert skills. Two of the motors were out of action, and repairing the hole in the side will require the work of skilled boat builders.

The diocese has turned to ACN for help.  In turn we have  promised $13,200, so that this boat with a vital mission, can quickly be rendered serviceable again.