POPE FRANCIS has called on Catholics around the world, and all people of good will, to dedicate Friday Feb. 23, 2018 to prayer for peace, in particular on behalf of two African nations experiencing violent upheavals—South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
We spoke with two African prelates—Bishop Timothy Bodika Mansiyai of Kikwit in the DRC, and Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Adwok of the Archdiocese of Khartoum in Sudan—about the suffering of their people.
“The Holy Father knows well the tragic situation that both countries are going through,” said the Congolese prelate, adding that “the Pope has a great desire to visit both places, but was forced to cancel both trips. However, although he was unable to be physically present in our countries, he nonetheless accompanies us spiritually.”
Bishop Bodika expressed great gratitude towards Pope Francis, saying that the Pontiff “continues to closely follow the tense situation that the DRC is undergoing and the repression and abuses of which the priests, religious and lay Catholic Christians are victims. God hears the tears of his people.”
The struggle for the country’s mineral wealth has fueled a ruthless war in eastern Congo for more than a decade; there also is violent conflict in the central Kasai region, plus, the bishop said there is “a general crisis due to political tensions linked to upcoming general elections.”
In recent months the situation has further escalated, with peaceful demonstrations violently repressed by government armed forces, resulting in deaths and numerous injuries. Some of these protests were organized by the Lay Coordination Committee of the Archdiocese of Kinshasa and called for the Church-brokered accords of December 31, 2016 to be respected as enforcing the constitutional rotation of office-holders in the country’s political institutions.
“The special day of prayer and fasting is a call for the conversion of hearts, of all our hearts, but also those of our politicians and leaders,” said Bishop Bodika. He continued: “They have forgotten that their duty should be to serve the interests of the entire nation, not merely of a handful of people, while the rest of the community remains in poverty.” The people of Congo, he said are “crying out in pain, but the international community is not hearing.”
In his own Diocese of Kikwit alone the number of uprooted people in need urgent humanitarian aid has already reached 30,000. “The diocese of Kikwit does not have the financial means to cope with this humanitarian emergency. And so far our petitions to the authorities and political organizations to help manage this crisis have not met with success,” the bishop said.
For his part, Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Adwok of Khartoum described the crisis in his country: “The civil war there has created mass displacements in many parts of the land, which is hurting communities and families, in tandem with a loss of respect for human dignity.”
Bishop Adwok deplored the fact that “terror reigns in South Sudan, with warriors, government and politicians grappling for power, positions and not minding the fate of the ordinary Southern Sudanese. The fact that until today no one knows—that the government itself does not know—how many people have died in South Sudan since the start of the conflict in December 2013 is indicative of how the value of the human person has become of worthless in South Sudan.”
“No one keeps count and it looks as if those who died of violence, some of hunger and other mistreatments were ‘unfortunate’—[as if] they were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” the bishop said.
In addition to calling for a cessation of hostilities in South Sudan and hoping for the blessings of peace, Bishop Adwok requested that during the day of prayer and fasting people should also pray for the refugees and displaced, especially for the young.
He said: “Most of them are jobless and cannot continue with their education, and at the same time they are left alone to fend for themselves and in many cases they have to take care of their younger siblings and other relatives as well. The numerous challenges they face leave them feeling lonely, seeking cheap consolations and in many cases being drawn into groups linked to violence.”
The Holy Father’s appeal to pray for peace is a concrete response to the silent cry of so many victims all over the world. There were a total of 31 wars and armed conflicts during 2017, as reported by the Group for the Investigation into the Causes of War, based at the University of Hamburg, Germany.
Aid to the Church in Need—which supported the Church in Africa by funding close to 2000 projects for a total of more than $30M Euros in 2017—is inviting all its staff and donors to join together in the day of prayer and fasting on Feb. 23, 2018.