As violence rages around the world, everyone knows about ISIS, yet few seem to have kept track of the complex civil war that has convulsed the Democratic Republic of the Congo since the ’90s.
In recent months, horrifying massacres in the Congolese province of North Kivu — presumably perpetrated by an armed group called the Allied Democratic Forces/National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU) — have gone virtually unnoticed by the West.
I spoke last week with Fr. Kalondo Kabila Protais, head of the East African Province of the Augustinians of the Assumption, during his visit to the United States. When I proposed to blog about the Congo, he implored me to do so. “You can call it, ‘Congo Forgotten,’ in quotes, attributed to Fr. Protais,” he said.
Collura: Fr. Protais, your congregation is present in the Diocese of Butembo-Beni, where much of the recent violence has taken place. Can you describe what’s happening there?
Kalondo: In November and December last year, and even at the beginning of this year, the violence we saw was awful. They killed people with hatchets and machetes — mutilating limbs and genitals, disemboweling women, raping them, spitting in their mouths, dismembering children, ripping them to shreds, crushing the life out of them … blood flows everywhere. All the families in these areas — Lubero, Beni — are mourning; there is so much grief. People killed senselessly: men, women, even newborns.
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Apart from these despicable massacres, there is the great scourge of kidnapping. They abduct people, carry them away to the forest. There are perhaps 900 people or more who have been taken, including three of our priests, about whom we’ve heard nothing since.
Our worry is that the international community is saying nothing. It’s as though the Congo has been forgotten, sold off. The world’s great powers have turned toward Syria, the Ukraine. When the attacks happened in France, and twelve people were killed, the whole world rushed over there. In the Congo they chopped 300 people to bits with machetes, and not a single world leader sent his condolences to the Congolese people, much less went to be with them. And I ask myself: are we living on the same planet? We are like the orphans of humanity.
We often talk about the Rwandan genocide, and that is as it should be: 800,000 people were killed. In the Congo, over five million people have been slaughtered, yet here we do not hear the word “genocide.” Five million people since the war began …
If people want to come for our minerals, let them come — with law, with order, and in a way that benefits us too, rather than making their money off human blood. I’ve always said that the blood spilled in the Congo could fill an entire river. But no one speaks of it.
And I think it’s high time we’re considered members of the human race. We are really experiencing trauma, and we’re powerless. Of course, the Congolese themselves must also become more self-aware. They know nothing other than how to be manipulated by everyone.
Collura: What are the country’s leaders doing about this situation? Politicians, the Church?
Kalondo: The church is perhaps the only institution we can listen to, because it isn’t out for power. It’s the only institution focused on the people, working for the nation without self-regard.
Political leaders all want power, power for power’s sake, and they’ll do anything for it, even wade through human blood. It’s true that there are opposition parties, but when you dream of power, you eventually forget that you were once in the opposition. In the end you finally say, me too, I want this too.
We’ve had war for decades. I can remember civil unrest since 1985. This whole time, the diplomats have been in Kinshasa. The American ambassador, Canadian, French, German, Belgian — all the great powers are present in our country, yet it’s as though no one’s there. Or else they are complicit.
After the massacre we didn’t see a single ambassador in Beni, where the killings took place. The one who arrived was the apostolic nuncio. The nuncio and the bishop, they took a plane to come and see the reality on the ground, to see the people, and to say, “My condolences. Be brave.” No ambassadors. All the ambassadors say, “Democracy! Democracy! Human rights!” But they themselves have never come.
We need an international commission to see what’s going on, to see why there is so much murder, but it’s never happened, and not one single ambassador has ever uttered that phrase. The one who did, who wanted an objective international investigation, was our bishop.
Collura: And what is your congregation doing, pastorally?
Kalondo: In the Congo we have different missions, but we are particularly engaged in education. We have secondary schools, and the Emmanuel d’Alzon College of Butembo, where you can study communications, development, philosophy, computer science … we are very involved in that, and like this we try to support and be close to the people we are there to serve.
We try to be close to our people. We try to welcome them, to open the parish halls to the refugees, the children without parents. We share what we have with people, even though it’s not enough, and try to give them hope. But we are totally overwhelmed. There are so many orphans who don’t go to school because they can’t afford the tuition. It’s for them that my heart is awash with tears. You can’t be joyful when you’re living in that kind of situation, when there are so many innocent victims, because people just want power or influence so badly that they’ll go around decapitating people, burying them in shallow graves like common criminals.
Collura: How do you keep your faith when you see such things?
Kalondo: In seeing all this, I experience anew what Christ lived through. He was a refugee from a young age, and later was arrested, whipped, crucified. The one who did nothing but good was crucified. But he didn’t give up. He stayed faithful to the Father’s will. And we as Assumptionists, we too wish to be people of faith, people of communion, in solidarity with the poor and the miserable. In this we agree with Pope Francis. The whole situation calls us to a more living faith.
And we hope that one day, humanity will rediscover the value of life, and that at that moment, everyone will put down their weapons. For the moment we pray that we may bear witness to the faith without losing heart … and that we may encourage each other.
Collura: How, concretely, can people help?
Kalongo: We do not need food from outside. We have fields and farmers; the problem is that the farmers cannot make it to their fields alive. What people here need is peace. Peace, and education.