Remembering and celebrating missionaries killed in the DRC, South Africa and Kenya
Recently the Church in Africa has been victimized by a series of attacks against her ministers in South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya to name a few. The Catholic Task Force on Africa (CTFA) based on Washington DC and other members of the NGO community, in solidarity with those directly or indirectly affected by these tragedies, celebrated a Eucharist in memory of these victims at the Crypt Chapel to Mary, Our Mother of Africa at the National Shrine to the Immaculate Conception near Catholic University on Thursday, December 17th at 4:00pm.
On December 6 at night, Fr. Louis Blondel, a member of the Missionaries of Africa, was assassinated in his home by three men near Pretoria, South Africa. Fr. Blondel, a French citizen was 70 years old and has been a missionary in South Africa for 22 years. Before his South African assignment he served for more than fifteen years in Tanzania. In August, a television program entitled “Louis le Batisseur ( Louis the Builder) was aired by France2 in his honor. In this program Fr. Blondel was celebrated as the founder of “CORDIS” among other things. This group is dedicated to development and self reliance of the people he served. Those who knew him say he never complained and kept a smile on his face while he worked tirelessly.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
In the South Kivu province, on December 6, 2009 around 2 am, Fr. Daniel Cizimya Nakamaga, 51, a diocesan priest of the Archdiocese of Bukavu was assassinated in his parish home in Kabare. Unidentified men forced the door and shot him twice in the head after screaming at him in Lingala “ye wana” which means “this is the one”. Two other priests were in the house but were not hurt. In less than 48 hours, on December 7, 2009 around 7:30 pm, Sister Dénise Kahambu was assassinated at the Monastery in Murhesa by men in military uniform.
These are not the only attacks against the Archdiocese of Bukavu in recent months. On October 2rd around 8 pm, at Chiherano parish, a priest and a seminarian were taken hostages after their parish home was looted. They were released after a ransom was given. On October 5, 2009, the Catholic School run by Marist Brothers was attacked and looted. Because of these events, Archbishop Francois-Xavier Maroy was forced to return home from Rome where he was taking part in the second Synod of African Bishops. On Oct 12, 2009 in Kabare the Mukongola hospital was attacked and two doctors were seriously injured.
The Catholic Church has always been the target because of its social justice role. In a letter to the Congolese president, Joseph Kabila dated on December 11, 2009, the local clergy and men and women religious of the Archdiocese of Bukavu explain that they are targeted because they are regarded as “inconvenient witnesses of massive human rights violations perpetrated in South Kivu for nearly 14 years.” In this letter, not only is the clergy calling for improvement for security, but also for justice. “Will we get to know if there are links between those assigned to provide security and the assassins? …With the culture of impunity that has taken root, one is forced to believe that the desired peace is that of the cemetery and that only those with guns have the right to live”, said the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Bukavu, Mgr Pierre Bulambo Lunanga.
This diocese has experienced many losses since the war stated in 1996. The first victim was Archbishop Christophe Munzihirwa, killed by Rwanda troops the same day they captured the city of Bukavu on October 29, 1996. Followed were the killing of Fr. Georges Kakuja, Fr. Claude Buhendwa, Sisters murdered in Kasika, Fr. Remis Pepe without counting the many lay people they served. In his Christmas message in 1999, Archbishop Emmanuel Kataliko, the successor of Archbishop Munzihirwa, called believers to recommit themselves to peace, to “continue the mission of Jesus who proclaim life and life in abundance, to resist evil in all its forms, denounce everything that degrades the dignity of the person.” He underscored the fact that “it is through our suffering and our prayers that we will fight for freedom, bring our oppressors to reason and their own freedom”
On December 12, 2009 in Kerochi, 190 miles from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, Fr. Jeremiah Roche was killed by robbers. Fr. Roche was a Kiltegan Missionary (St. Patrick Missionaries). They broke in his home after cutting the metal grille of his window. He was stripped naked, tied on a chair and then stabbed in the throat. The assassins took with them a DC player, two cell phones and his blood stained clothes which were later found. Fr. Jeremiah , a native of Ireland from the town of Limerick served as a missionary in Kenya for 41 year.
“They were faithful witnesses of the Gospel, which they knew how to proclaim, even at the risk of their own lives”, said Pope Benedict XVI at the conclusion of the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square on December 13th, remembering the four missionaries killed last week in different African nations. The Pontiff expressed his “nearness to their families and communities, who are grieving”, and invited all “to join in my prayer that the Lord welcome them into his house, console those who weep for them and bring them reconciliation and peace with his coming”.
Also Cardinal Sean Brady, Primate of all Ireland, said in regard to Fr. Roche and the other missionaries, “these events remind us of the great sacrifice of those who risk their lives responding to the calling of the Lord to bring the Good News to the poor of the world”. Adding, he said that his prayers go in particular for “the safety of missionaries, religious and lay, working in their communities under the threat of violence”.
Though these missionaries are no longer with us, the mission of the church that they were part of continues. Their cruel deaths call for solidarity with all the victims of violence worldwide and particularly those who are suffering persecution and injustice in Africa. Today more than ever before, by the sacrifice of these servants of God, may we be inspired and strengthened to work more for peace, justice, reconciliation, development and everything that can make this world a better and safer world for everyone.
Fr. Rocco Puopolo, s.x. & Bahati Ntama
Africa Faith and Justice Network
125 Michigan Ave, NE
Washington DC 20017-1004
Tel. 202 884 9780
Fr. Rocco Puopolo, s.x.,
Executive Director AFJN
202 884 9780
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