Globalizing Solidarity

Interview With Caritas Official for Africa

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ROME, MARCH 21, 2011 ( Africa’s tragic history echoes in its troubled present, but the continent would be suffering even more if it weren’t for the Catholic Church, according to an Africa liaison officer for Caritas.

A native of Congo, Father Pierre Cibambo Ntakobajira has seen firsthand the contribution the Church makes in Africa. “I do not know what would have been the situation of Africa today if the Church were not so dynamic,” he says.

In this interview with the television program “Where God Weeps” of the Catholic Radio and Television Network (CRTN) in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need, the priest speaks of his own history as a Catholic and the ongoing need to “globalize solidarity.”

Q: You were born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Did you grow up in a Catholic environment?

Father Ntakobajira: In 1955 when I was born my parents were not Christians, they were not Catholic. They were living their traditional religion. Some of my brothers and sisters were already Catholics but my parents were not.

Q: Was it difficult for them when you expressed a desire for the priesthood?

Father Ntakobajira: I started my primary school at the age of 7 and I was baptized in 1966; I was 11 and I was baptized two years before my mother because I was attending a Catholic school — it was easier for me to be in contact with the Catholic faith and so I was baptized two years before my mother.

Q: You left Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo and went to Belgium to study at the Catholic university there and then you went on to Canada to study at the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution. Why did you leave Bukavu?

Father Ntakobajira: It was my bishop who asked me to go and study in order to improve our involvement in social and development work. So I went to Belgium. I stayed there for three years. I went back to my country in 1994. It was exactly during the genocide in Rwanda and I was asked to take up the diocesan office for Caritas to help, to organize the work of my diocese in assisting the many refugees from Rwanda who were crossing the border and entering Congo at that time.

Q: In a U.N. study of more than 50 under-developed countries, African nations made up 34 of that list. Why is Africa seemingly a continent of suffering?

Father Ntakobajira: It would be too long to talk about that, I think, but I would say that this is a result of a combination of many factors: the historical perspective, the international economic systems, governance and culture; it is a combination of all these factors. If I refer to the history of Africa, we need to understand that the history of Africa is a sad history — slavery, for example, and its consequences. It is a history of colonialism and exploitation. This is not enough to explain and justify the current situation but this certainly has something to do with what we are saying about the situation of Africa.

Q: Has this also something to do with present politics and governance?

Father Ntakobajira: For many years the African continent, and the many countries of the continent, found themselves in the hands of people who were put there not because they were the right people but because they were serving the interests of somebody else. During the Cold War, in Congo, for example, we had [President] Mobutu for 32 years and this was a man who did not do anything for Congo. What we are suffering in Congo today has its roots during that era; Mobutu was put there in the context of the Cold War, supported and getting money from the international community but doing his own business with this money and not developing the country. This is a country that is four times bigger than France with 60 million people. We have all the natural resources that you can imagine. It is like a paradise and yet people are dying of hunger. Can you imagine?

Q: Africa has some of the greatest natural wealth yet suffers great poverty. This is a contradiction that begs for an answer.

Father Ntakobajira: These vast natural resources have been exploited by external companies and, we can now see that these same natural resources are the main reason for the war that is ravaging countries like Congo. In many countries where you have petrol, gold, and diamonds, misery follows; it is like a curse to have all these things in your soil …

Q: … in your backyard…

Father Ntakobajira: Yes, precisely, because these resources are exploited and the revenues are spent on weapons that are being brought into the country. In Congo, especially the eastern part, we are suffering from those who were responsible for the genocide in Rwanda. They entered Congo and now occupy various parts of the country where they are extracting the natural resources, and selling all these to external companies, and the revenues are then used to purchase weapons and preparing for war, killing the local people and threatening the security of the entire region. So it is a contradiction, yes, and it is terrible; it is a disaster.

Q: The Catholic Church is vital. It is, in terms of education in Africa, educating some 1 million school children and has more than 2,000 hospitals, not to mention clinics and orphanages. How important is the work of the Catholic Church in supporting infrastructure in these African nations?

Father Ntakobajira: In Africa — thank God — we have the Church, especially the Catholic Church. I do not know what would have been the situation of Africa today if the Church were not so dynamic. Let me come back to Congo again. I come from a diocese in the Archdiocese of Bukavu, which is managing more than 500 schools and also a Catholic university. This is a diocese that is also managing more than 10 hospitals and over 200 health centers. So you can imagine the level of engagement and impact the local Church in that area has, and everybody recognizes this. So the Church is contributing a lot to improve the condition of the people, especially in education and in health.

Q: How important is the work of organizations like Caritas, Aid to the Church in Need and other charities?

Father Ntakobajira: The late Pope, John Paul II, appealed to the entire world saying: We need to globalize solidarity. Catholic organizations like Aid to the Church in Need and Caritas are a concrete way of globalizing solidarity according to the Gospel and social teaching of the Church. So it is extremely important that these organizations are coming to the support of the local Churches because the local Churches need to be supported in their struggle.

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This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for “Where God Weeps,” a weekly TV & radio show produced by Catholic Radio & Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

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