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Catholic Church in DR Congo Says Persecution Still on 25 Years after Murder of Archbishop

Violence in DR Congo. Credit: Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)

The Catholic Archdiocese of Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is still experiencing persecution years after the gruesome murder of Archbishop Christophe Munzihirwa Mwene Ngabo, the Local Ordinary of the Archdiocese has said.

Archbishop Munzihirwa was reportedly killed by the forces of the Alliance of Democratic Forces (ADF) when the rebels captured Bukavu in 1996.

In commemorating 25 years since the member of the Society of Jesus (SJ-Jesuits) was murdered at the age of 70, Archbishop François-Xavier Maroy Rusengo of Bukavu Archdiocese denounced the persecution he said his Episcopal See has been suffering recently at the hands of armed groups.

In a Wednesday, October 13 message to Pontifical charity foundation, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) United States, Archbishop Rusengo affirmed that the attacks against the local Church have increased lately, rendering his ministry impossible.

“There have been around ten separate attacks by armed men on our Parishes, Rectories, and Convents just in this year,” Archbishop Rusengo says in the ACN report.

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According to the Local Ordinary of Bukavu, seven Parishes, a school, a health center and a Convent were attacked between March and October 2021, in the towns of Karhale, Ciherano, Burhiba, Cahi, Nyamugo, Kadutu, Kanyamulande, Mugogo and Cirirri, the last of these having been attacked last week, on October 6.

 “The consequences of all these attacks are enormous, not to speak of the trauma and the physical and psychological scars they have left, fortunately without any actual loss of life,” the Congolese Archbishop says. 

The Pontifical charity organization reports that for years now, the Provinces of the Eastern part of DRC have been terrorized by rebel militias.

“Ethnic conflicts, population movements and the desire for access to valuable mineral resources have played an important role in all this,” ACN reports, and adds, “In recent years there has also been a growing element of radical Islam.”

Archbishop Rusengo lamented that many of the attacks are occurring close to the places where the forces of law and order are stationed.

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The Congolese Archbishop told ACN that while the terrible situation they are suffering at present is due to the lack of resources, unemployment and poverty the people are forced to live in, it is also “appropriate to consider the living conditions of the soldiers and police, not to mention the porous nature of our frontiers with neighboring countries and the absence of any genuine government authority throughout our territory.”

The Pontifical charity organization notes that there is a “complete absence” of State-provided security in Bukavu, and that the Catholic Church is one of the few bodies speaking out against injustice and violence in the region.

For this reason, the Archbishop who has been at the helm of Congolese Archdiocese since June 2006 believes the attacks appear to be “targeting particularly the structures of the Church.”

Archbishop Rusengo poses, in reference to the attacks, “Is it an attempt to muzzle the Church, given that she is one of the few agencies still raising her voice to plead the cause of this suffering population? Nor should we forget that in speaking of the Church we are speaking of God, who is not welcomed by the secular political and economic authorities. Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

The 65-year-old Archbishop has called on the people of God under his pastoral care to organize themselves to protect the churches and Catholic institutions from future attacks.

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He has further called upon the faithful around the world to “persevere in prayer” in order to console the suffering, pray for the conversion of those who are causing this suffering, and persuade the authorities to “shoulder their responsibilities on behalf of everyone.”

Meanwhile, the people of God in DRC are remembering the Servant of God Archbishop Munzihirwa who was born in 1926 in Lukumbo in the Eastern part of the country and was elevated to the episcopal dignity as coadjutor Bishop of the Diocese of Kasongo on 10 March 1986.

Agenzia Fides reported earlier that on 15 September 1993, he had been appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Bukavu, while remaining the Local Ordinary of DRC’s Kasongo Diocese.

According to the information service of Propaganda Fide, Archbishop Munzihirwa was known for his frankness, courage and strength in denouncing evil, injustice, and illegal occupation of Congolese territory by foreign armed groups who committed crimes and violence against the local population.

The Jesuit Archbishop is said to have been killed on 29 October 1996 and his body abandoned on the streets where Seminarians found him.

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“The Archbishop died in a situation of total poverty. The streets were deserted; the people were holed up in their homes and corpses lay in the streets of the city,” reads a past report by Agenzia Fides.

The report quotes a November 1996 statement by Joseph Cardinal Tomko, at the time Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and special envoy of the Pope to Burundi, who said, “Mgr. Munzihirwa died as a martyr! He was a prophet! Africa, Congo, the Great Lakes and in particular the Archdiocese of Bukavu lost a precious pearl. Woe to those who think of placing their throne on tombs.”