Christians and others in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo are threatened with kidnapping, murder, displacement and forced conversion to Islam, according to Archbishop Marcel Utembi Tapa, president of Congolese bishops’ conference. Allied Democratic Forces, an extremist Islamic militia, is involved in many of the kidnappings and killings as they attempt to occupy much of eastern Congo and exploit its resources, hoping to secure religious and political dominance of the area. The central government has done little to stop the violence.
The fighting between the over 150 militia groups has been going on for decades. Much of the conflict is rooted in a desire to control the valuable natural resources of the country. Kidnapping and Islamization (forced conversion to Islam) is part of the strategy the ADF and other extremist militias adopt to gain control of people, or to force ransom payments from victim’s families. 7,500 people have been kidnapped in the Congo just in the last two years, including a number of Catholic priests. Last year alone, 2,000 people died in Bunia, the capital city of Ituri Province. According to the Crux article linked above, “At least 3 million people in the region have been displaced. The armed groups and militiamen have been burning villages, destroying schools and health centers, looting government offices, raiding animals and destroying crops.”
In February, Italian ambassador to the Congo, Luca Attanasio, was killed along with his security escort and their driver during what many believe was a kidnapping attempt. Bishop Sébastien-Joseph Muyengo of Uvira, South Kivu, said at the time that the murder of the ambassador “only confirms what we have been saying for some time: Total insecurity reigns here. … If it is possible to kill a diplomat of this rank in this manner, think about what can happen to ordinary villagers.”
Bishop Melchisedech Sikuli Paluku of Butembo-Beni has asked for international assistance for his violence-ravaged country. “Hear my country’s cry of suffering and help its poor people,” the bishop said. “Given the Calvary we’ve been forced to undergo for so long, we feel ourselves abandoned.”
Sylvestre Kimbese, Project Manager for Catholic Relief Services’ Justice and Peace Department in the DRC says that the situation is complex and will require acute aid and systemic change. “CRS believes that the response to this chronic instability must include both immediate life-saving aid to vulnerable and conflict-affected populations,” Kimbese said, “but also long-term programming focused on creating and enabling environment for peace to take root. This means promoting social and economic opportunities that may dissuade young people from joining armed groups and providing families with tools and approaches to improve social cohesion and create resilient, peaceful, and connected communities,”
Information on the work of Catholic Relief Services in the DRC can be found here.
Information on the work of Aid to the Church in Need in the DRC can be found here.
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