Hearts and feet on the move to Congo
On this World Mission Sunday, whose theme is “Hearts on fire, feet on the move”, our congregation is turning its attention in a special way to the Congo. We are now less than two months away from the foundation of the new mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In Rome, the pioneer sisters are taking part in a two-week seminar until 31 October, when they leave for Steyl, where they will continue their preparation and be sent to Congo. The foundation is scheduled for 8 December, the anniversary of the Congregation.
The themes of the seminar aim to offer elements that will help the missionaries deal with the situations they will encounter in Congo. Among the topics are: Community Building; Trauma Healing Training; SSpS Identity and Congregational Reality; Sociocultural Aspects of the DRC; Church and Mission in the DRC; Financial Sustainability; Mission Projects; Nonviolent Communication; Peace Building and Conflict Resolution; Steps of St Arnold Janssen and others.
The SSpS Sisters will go to Bandundu, in the diocese of Kenge, where the SVD missionaries have been present for more than 70 years. Here, the Mission Secretary, Sr. Gretta Fernandes, presents some aspects of the Diocese of Kenge and the reality in Congo.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
Since we SSpS plan to start our mission in the Diocese of Kenge, here is some brief information about the diocese.
Fr. Tomasz Laskowski, SVD baptizing a child in the diocese of Kenge. (photo: © Slawomir Wojtanowski)
The Diocese of Kenge
Kenge is the capital of Kwango Province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. SVDs have been in the diocese of Kenge for more than 70 years.
Rev. Jean-Pierre Kwambamba is the bishop of Kenge. As of 2020, nearly 60% of the total population, 1,523,673 of Kenge, was catholic.
The diocese has 29 parishes, more than 100 priests, and around 100 catholic religious sisters. The distance from Kinshasa to Kenge is 184 km.
In 2018, three SSpS visited Kenge and met with the present Bishop. The areas for the SSpS ministry in Kenge would be education, health, and socio-pastoral, especially among young people.
Kenge is also rich with many religious vocations for men and women. The main occupation of the people was farming and trading; the main challenges faced were poverty, high child mortality, malnutrition, and witchcraft.
History of the DRC
Women at work in the DRC (photo: © Slawomir Wojtanowski)
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was formerly called Zaire or Belgian Congo. Its present name (DRC) was adopted in 1964. Its capital is Kinshasa. Therefore, it is also known as Congo-Kinshasa.
Belgium colonized it in the late 19th century and took official control from 1908 to 1960. Congo gained its freedom on June 30, 1960. After the Congolese elected a government, there was a mutiny against the white Belgian commanders.
The mutiny spread all over the country and many white Europeans, mainly the Belgians, fled. The Belgians brought Belgian troops to restore peace and order but did so without the permission of the newly formed Congolese government. The Congolese government asked the United Nations to intervene.
The crisis continued from 1960 to 1965, known as the Congo Crisis. In September 1960, the first prime minister Lumumba was overthrown in a military coup led by Col. Joseph- Désiré Mobutu, and he began his reign as a dictator for 36 years. Lumumba was executed in early 1961.
The Congo Crisis:
Laundry in Kwango river (photo: © Franciszek Wojdyla SVD)
Dag Hammarskjöld, UN secretary-general, was killed in a plane crash on September 18, 1961, en route to cease-fire negotiations. Around 100,000 people are believed to have been killed during the crisis.
Mobutu was deposed in 1997 by rebel leader Laurent Kabila, who declared himself president. 1996 marked the first Congo War, and in 1998 the second Congo War began and lasted till 2003. It is estimated that the number of deaths during the Second Congo War was between one and five million.
Though peace was achieved in 2003, the deadly legacy of the war continues to be felt in ethnic violence, instability, authoritarian leadership, and extreme poverty. The armed rebel groups remain active mostly in the Eastern part of DRC.
Village on Kwango river (photo: © Tomasz Laskowski SVD)
It has a total land area of 2.3 million km², straddling the equator; it is the second-largest country in Africa and the 11th-largest country globally.
DRC is situated at the heart of the African continent and is surrounded by Angola, Congo-Brazzaville, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, and Zambia.
Congo has only a short coastline. The Congo River basin is covered by dense tropical rainforest. The tropical climate ranges from 27°C in the coastal basin to 18°C in the hilly eastern province. Though rainfall is plenty all over the country, it is not regular.
Regarding natural resources, DRC is one of the most richly endowed countries in the world, with a vast potential for mineral wealth, including diamonds, cobalt, copper, gold, zinc, uranium, natural gas, phosphate, petroleum, and other rare minerals.
The Congo River comes second in the world after the Amazon regarding hydroelectric potential and is the second largest river in Africa after the Nile.
The current population numbers 96 million. This amounts to 1.15% of the world’s total population. DRC ranks number 16 in the list of countries by population. 45.6 % of the population lives in urban areas. The median age is 17 years. The annual population growth is 3.2 (in 2021). Life expectancy is 61 years.
There are over 200 African ethnic groups, of which the majority are Bantu; the four largest tribes – Mongo, Luba, Kongo (all Bantu), and the Mangbetu-Azande (Hamitic) – make up about 45% of the population. The tribal leaders/chiefs have great control and decision-making power.
Nearly 80% of the population is Christian, 10% belong to Islam, and 10% practice indigenous religions. There are six Catholic archdioceses and 47 dioceses in DRC.
For the Catholic Church of the DRC, July 2, 2022, was a historic day as Cardinal Pietro Parolin (Vatican Secretary of State) visited DRC to sign an agreement with the government to define the Church’s legal status in the areas of health, finance, pastoral care, and social services.
The Congolese Catholic Bishops’ Conference (CENCO) signed five agreements with the DRC government recognizing the official status of the Church, which was previously registered as a non-profit organization.
The Catholic Church is running nearly 50 percent of schools and about 40 percent of health facilities in DRC. In 2021, the men’s and women’s religious conferences were combined into the Conference of Major Superiors of DRC. Pope Francis plans to visit DRC at the end of January 2023.