"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


disappointing news from Bukavu

Via @congowire, here's a sad tidbit of news from Bukavu regarding the targeting of Catholic priests, monks, and nuns in South Kivu:
"We appeal to you to ask you to ensure our safety and that of the people we minister to" is how the priests and religious men and women of the Archdiocese of Bukavu have addressed the President of Democratic Republic of the Congo, Joseph Kabila, in a message delivered to the Head of State during his visit to the capital of South Kivu (eastern DRC).

In the letter, a copy of which was sent to Fides, they list the recent violence in which victims were priests and religious working in the territory of the Archdiocese. October 3, 2009 at 8pm: attack and looting of the parish house at Ciherano with the abduction of a priest and a seminarian. Their release occurred the next day, upon payment of a ransom of $5,000. On October 5, 2009: attack and looting of the school of Nyangezi, run by the Marist Brothers. December 6, 2009: at 2 in the morning, attack on the parish house of Kabare and murder of Fr. Daniel Cizimaya. On December 7, 2009, at 7:30: assault on the Monastery in Murhesa with the murder of Sister Denise Kahambu.

"The population of South Kivu is in shock from the targeting of the Catholic Church, whose social role and involvement in the democratization of our country you know," says the message. "Therefore, are church personnel (priests, religious men and women) seen as..witnesses of all the massive human rights violations perpetrated in South Kivu for almost 14 years?"
The Catholic Church is far and away the most stable and enduring social institution in South Kivu. Along with a handful of large Protestant communities, it was basically the only organized institution to survive the region's severe economic decline, the collapse of the state, and the wars. This is the primary reason that the churches are the main instruments of social service provision in the Kivus. Absent their efforts, there would be almost no education or health care available in the region. Most of the region's public hospitals, clinics, and schools are essentially contracted out to the churches. Where international medical NGO's are involved, they are either providing emergency care in field hospitals or, more often, working in conjunction with the churches that run the hospitals. Even when they don't have international support, church-run health facilities and schools continue to do the best they can to serve the region's population.

In Bukavu in particular, the Catholic Church and its leaders played a major role in the push for democratization that occurred prior to the Rwandan genocide and Mobutu's fall. Their leaders are active in the country's civil society movements and in the peace process. They also played a key role in educating parishioners about the electoral process prior to the 2006 elections. (Think about that for a second. The population of a failed state had to be taught how to vote.)

It's hard to tell from the data in this article if there's systematic targeting of the Catholic Church, or if the violence they're experiencing is a function of the Church being perceived to have abundant resources for thieves to steal. Either way, this is disturbing news, and our thoughts are with South Kivu's Catholics as they continue to care for the population in places no one else will. We hope for safety and for peace.


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