By Aleksandra Szymczak
A delegation from international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) returned from a field visit to Kivu province, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Regina Lynch, director of ACN’s project department and Father Martin Barda, ACN International’s Ecclesiastical assistant spoke about their experiences Sept. 23, 2016.
What is the situation in DRC today?
Regina Lynch: For the past 20 years it has been a place of war “on and off.” According to the International Red Cross about 5.4 million people have died. The problem is that few people are aware of what is happening there, nobody really speaks about it. There has been no or very little development of the region.
Which experiences saddened you the most?
Father Martin Barta: There is a very low sense of security, people are afraid to go out to the countryside, and you usually can’t drive out of the city after 6PM, because you risk being attacked or kidnapped by various armed groups. There is always danger, even in the city, people told us.
Regina Lynch: As foreigners, we were considered particularly important targets. In the last nine years seven priests have been killed. The question of violence and insecurity dominates every conversation.
In Goma we have visited the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary. One of them, Sister Georgette takes care of young single mothers. What happens is that the women go to the forest to collect wood for cooking, and there they are attacked and raped. Pregnant, these young women are then not accepted by their families. So Sister Georgette takes them in, along with the babies, and she keeps them there for about a year in order that she can teach them some sort of a small trade. Sister Georgette also cares for some 80 orphans, rejected by their families or found in the streets.
If the Church weren’t there, I don’t know who would look after these women and children…
Which experiences brought you joy?
Father Barta: Conditions there would be absolutely intolerable for Westerners. Yet, people there tend to speak about their pain and sorrows with a sense of composure—we never saw anybody crying. But seeing them praying and dancing during the Holy Mass, it was as if they would put all their great emotional distress into it. This expression of faith, which overcomes these unhuman conditions, really touched me.
What struck you about what they said?
Father Barta: We visited a community of Trappist sisters. The nuns are in constant danger. One was killed in 2009. But they remain there praying for the whole region. There is one 90-year-old French sister, whom we asked about the community’s charism and she replied: “To search for God in simplicity and love, at any time.”
Regina Lynch: We also asked one of the priests in Goma why people are choosing to stay. He said: “People say we stay because the priest is still there.” That is probably typical for the whole region. And it doesn’t only refer to the priests but also the sisters. The people stay as long as the Church in the form of the Church personnel is there. That is the reason for the people to stay. The Church gives them God and where God is, there is hope and light in the darkness.