April 19, 2024

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Democratic Republic of the Congo, the daily Station of the Cross for a people at war forgotten by all

Democratic Republic of the Congo, the daily Station of the Cross for a people at war forgotten by all

Over the course of months, intense fighting between the M23 militia and the Congolese army caused a mass exodus that was ignored by the international community. Preparing for Easter takes on special meaning in this context of extreme poverty. From the refugee camp where Father Mbara, the parish priest of Saki, is located, he speaks of a “terrible” situation and a crisis that “must be solved at its roots.”

Olivier Bonnell – Vatican City

Over the past two years, more than 1.5 million people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been forced to flee their homes due to fighting between rebels from the March 23 Movement (M23), a militia supported by the Rwandan army, and Congolese rebels. The army and its supporting forces. Fighting has intensified since the beginning of 2024. A note from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) summarizes it as a crisis characterized by a multiplicity of armed actors involved in the conflict, large-scale displacement, and an increasing number of people in need of humanitarian assistance. At the end of February. Hundreds of thousands of civilians who have abandoned their lands and villages now live in temporary camps, especially near Goma, the capital of North Kivu. Father Faustin Mbara, parish priest of Divine Mercy in Saki, about 20 kilometers away, took refuge here. The rebels destroyed the priest of his church. However, in this difficult context, rural Christians are preparing to live the suffering of Christ with the hope of resurrection.

How is life here?

Food distributions are organized here, but because there are so many camps and so many people, what little is distributed is insufficient. The goods are distributed with the help of the World Food Program and other local actors such as diocesan Caritas. But the situation is very difficult: people here have lost everything. They lost their homes, but they also lost their fields, their minimum means of subsistence. In the town, thieves are destroying houses. Even our priests were destroyed. Everything was looted and stolen, even the smallest spoon. If refugees here return to their homeland, they will have to start over.

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What spiritual value do you give this experience to all these people?

God passes through our lives through the events we read about. It is precisely the passage of Jesus in our lives that calls us to repentance, coexistence and, above all, humility. On this Good Friday we see the death of Jesus Christ for this people. But these people need to be encouraged by the word of God, and by preaching, so that they do not lose faith. What the people of eastern DRC experience today is also the Stations of the Cross. Every Friday we come here to the camp to do the Stations of the Cross and we tell them that we are walking the Stations of the Cross and that is why we must take this suffering and unite it with the suffering of Jesus.

What does it mean to prepare for Easter in this context of war?

Insecurity has persisted in our region for more than thirty years. I have been a priest since 2001. This is something I experience almost every year. But this year the situation is particularly dire: people are fleeing and abandoning their flocks. There are other priests who, despite everything, remain in their parishes. But everything that happens is a forgotten crisis. No one is as worried about the situation here in the East as they are about the situation in Gaza or Ukraine.

What can the people you work with expect from the Easter message?

They are waiting for a message of consolation, a message of victory. I tell the people I come into contact with that this suffering will be temporary and that one day we will overcome it, just as Christ conquered death. If we have to solve the crisis, let us solve it at its roots, so that we can live in peace.

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