On Thursday, November 23, 2017 Pope Francis presided over a prayer for peace in South Sudan and in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation created in 2011 has never known peace since 2013. Pope Francis had accepted an invitation to visit South Sudan this year after an ecumenical delegation of Christian leaders from that country visited him at the Vatican in October 2016. Unfortunately, he was forced to cancel due to security concerns, according to some reports.
Phil Hatcher-Moore, reporting for Al Jazzier wrote in October this year that “Nearly four million people, or roughly a third of the country’s population, have been forced from their homes by the conflict in South Sudan. Some have fled to neighboring countries, while others have been living in the sprawling camps surrounding United Nations bases across South Sudan. Others, including thousands of members of the Shilluk tribe, have been moving from town to town through the bush as front lines sweep across the country.” Pictures from South Sudan show people sleeping outside in the open and exposing them to mosquito bites which explains in part the prevalence of malaria infections.
Also, there have been reports of ethnic cleansing due to ethnic tone associated to the power struggles between South Sudan’s leaders.
Similarly, many people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the world’s second largest country, have not known peace since 1996. Africa Faith & Justice Network, an advocacy group which the Missionaries of Africa Co-founded and continues to financially support, recently published some of the stories to raise awareness on what is happening to our Congolese brothers and sisters.
On September 16, 2017 in Rutshuru in North Kivu Province, a vehicle full of passengers was ambushed by members of a militia. One person was killed, three were kidnapped, and many more were wounded. The night before in the same locality in a village called Ntamugenga, a Catholic priest named Jean de Dieu Kasereka Kanefu, on holiday with his family, was also kidnapped and taken to an unknown location. The kidnappers were asking for $20,000 in ransom, but no one knows exactly how much was paid for his release less than 24 hours later. Fr. Jean de Dieu is a member of the Catholic order of Caracholini priests.
On September 15, 2017, the director of the Mabalako Healthcare System, Doctor Mumbere Kamaliro Germain, was kidnapped after an ambush by armed men near Rwindi and Mabenga towns on the Goma-Butembo road. His kidnappers are asking $10,000. One person was killed during the ambush. The car Doctor Mumbere was in was part of a long convoy which was escorted by the army at the time of his kidnapping.
On the night of September 8, 2017, Father Waswandi, a Catholic priest from the Diocese of Butembo in North Kivu province escaped a kidnapping attempt. He jumped from a vehicle they had put him in and was treated for wounds from beatings with metallic bars.
On July 16, 2017, two Catholic Priests, Frs. Charles Kipasa and Jean-Pierre Akilimali of Paroisse Notre-Dame des Anges parish in Bunyuka in Butembo Diocese were kidnapped. The kidnappers were asking for $20,000 in ransom.
On April 14, 2017, the gynecologist of the referral hospital of Uvira, Doctor Gildo Byamungu was killed at his home during the night by armed men. They took his phone, computer, and documents. On January 29, 2016 Doctor Deo Chiza Rumesha, chief surgeon at the referral Hospital of Mweso in North Kivu was kidnapped and found the next morning dead.
On October 19, 2012 Frs. Edmond Kisughu, Anselme Wasukundi, and Jean-Pierre Ndulani, three Assumptionist priests, were kidnapped from their rectory in Mbau in the Diocese of Beni, in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). To this day they have not returned home. An article published by the Assumptionist priests in 2014, citing the bimonthly paper Les Coulisses and Radio Kivu 1, stated that they are believed to have been killed by the Ugandan rebel group called the Allied Democratic Forces & the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda ( ADF-NALU) because they refused to convert to Islam. This combination of two rebel groups is known to force its hostages to convert to Islam, according to documents seized at one of their camps two years ago during a raid and destroyed by the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC.
On a daily basis, Congolese citizens from different corners of the nation live in fear for their lives. Men, women, school children are kidnapped, killed day in and day out, and their stories are known to just a few. Congolese politicians in the meantime are fighting over political posts which are an easy way to accumulate wealth in a very short time with little effort. The stories above are just a sample of what is going on in the DRC. Each day and night is full of uncertainty in villages, towns and cities.
The stories of many victims of the ongoing violence in these countries will never be known. This is why we are encouraged to remember them in our daily prayers and do what we can to advocate for peace.