Visit to Archevêché Catholique de Bukavu
Sister Mary-Ellen Francoeur
In the absence of Msgr. Francois Exavier Maroy, the Catholic Archbishop of Bukavu, Msgr. Pierre Bulambo welcomed us warmly. Bishop Maroy had flown to Kinshasa for a gathering of the Council of Bishops. This meeting was opened by our partner, Héritiers de la Justice, and introductions were made to set the scene for exchange.
We learned from Msgr. Bulambo, the Vicar-Général, of the existence of a Commission for Justice and Peace established by the Archdiocese to defend human rights and to work for peace. On a monthly basis, the Commission produces a bulletin called Flash which describes it activities.
One department in the Commission carries on a ministry of “listening” to the needs of each parish through its local justice and peace committees. An important focus of this listening is to the suffering of women who have been raped. Recognizing the difficulty of these women to speak up at all, let alone travel to Bukavu to do so, the Church goes to them to comfort and support.
A further sensitivity of the Commission is to the plight of the children born of rape. They may have been born of a man from another country, such as Rwanda, and a local Congolese woman. In this patriarchal society, they are considered to belong to the father, and so are not accepted in the woman’s family. Many in number and without any status, they often flee into the forest and risk being recruited into rebel groups. The Catholic Church is reaching out with compassion to these vulnerable children, making efforts to give them a status and a place in society.
Further, the Commission works with Centre Olame, which ministers to the most vulnerable women who are not being reached through the ministry of “listening.” A leader in this Centre has toured the world speaking of the suffering of Congolese women. The Centre works for the equality of women, that is, promoting equal opportunity for women and girls.
All the churches, both Protestant and Catholic, are aware that they face the same problems. Unfortunately they meet irregularly as a common body to speak out on, and act on, these common issues.
A great concern of Msgr. Bulambo is that news of suffering in the Congo does not reach the ears of the global North, despite communications into Africa through the BBC and Voice of America. He was greatly appreciative of our visit,which indicated an awareness and a care. He urged us to bring back the message of suffering and need. In his opinion, the smallest message “could change the world.” He also called for our prayers.
The Monsignor testified and witnessed to a Church of compassion and courage. They have spoken out on injustice, and for this, some bishops have lost their lives. Today, priests are taken hostage and held for ransom by armed rebel groups. Church leaders live in constant danger, and yet they continue to speak their truth about injustice, and are a faithful presence to the most vulnerable.
Sister Mary-Ellen Francoeur is a member of the Sisters of Service and lives in Montreal, Québec. She is representing the Canadian Religious Conference (CRC) on the KAIROS delegation to DRC.