Revised at 4:30 PM EST, 1/27/11
From Fr. David Marriott
Parishes of St. Columba of Iona & St. Bride.
A few days ago, I was sitting watching a whole bunch of little birds: different varieties, but I cannot tell them apart very well: they were out in a backyard eating their fill of seeds which my host had kindly scattered for them. But the way they went about this feast was different: it involved so much nervous looking around them before every quick peck at the seed, and many, many hasty flights into the nearby trees and bushes, before they deemed it safe to return to their food.
Watching these birds brought me to reflect on the way we can live without the need to check our surroundings every few minutes, that we live in a far safer place than that of the birds: even though we all, birds and humans, happen to live in the same place on earth! And the reason that there is this fundamental difference is that we have embraced the values of law and the civil society: with a respect for the rights of the other: be that neighbour, colleague, friend, or adversary. And in the societies of the ‘West’, we might give great thanks that the values of the very civil society that brings us this peace is the result of the teaching of the Christian faith and the values inherent therein.
Then I checked my e-mail, where a message was waiting which demonstrated that as we give thanks for our freedoms, others, other Christian brothers and sisters, live a life more typical of that which I had observed in the birds: they are, they have to be, constantly on guard, constantly watchful, constantly aware of the enemy within their own community. If you read the Economist of January 15th 2011, there is an article detailing the impact of rape as a weapon of war: and the grave ramifications of this. The e-mail I received made this article far, far more real: these are people I have met, who have honoured my visit to their town: the little town of Fizi in Sud-Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo.
On the 1st January 2011, an officer of the Congolese army, ‘Amani Leo’ battalion, sat drinking in Fizi. He called out to a young boy, that the boy should go and bring him a local woman whom he had seen in a field close by: he explained that he wanted to sleep with her. The young boy objected: arguing that this was not a prostitute, that the woman was a married woman, mother of a family in the town. Angered by this reply, the officer ordered his body guard to shoot the young boy.
Before the bodyguard was able to carry out the command the officer and bodyguard were assaulted by a group of the young boy’s friends: they were successful in taking the rifle from the bodyguard, and then proceeded to beat the officer and the bodyguard with severe results.
That evening, the commandant of the ‘Amani Leo’ battalion, who was in Fizi-Centre at the time, ordered his troop to take their vengeance by killing with knives any and all people that they found in the neighbourhood of the incident. This was the night of the 1st – 2nd January 2011.
You should be aware that the name ‘Amani Leo’ is Swahili for ‘Peace in our day’.
The soldiers in this brigade have been recruited in the main from a former rebel group – ‘CNDP’ (Congrès national pour la défense du peuple) of Laurent Nkudabatware (Laurent Nkunda): these troops include many Rwandan Tutsi who have been brought in to fight the Iterahamwe (Hutu) militia, themselves fugitive from the Rwandan conflict, in both North and South Kivu provinces.
Whereas all may support the need to eliminate the threat of an armed militia terrorizing your community and region, desperately looking to a return to peace and tranquility and the possible establishment of investment in mining and agriculture that this would bring: few can countenance the prospect where the very army you need to rely on for protection are themselves instigators of criminal acts of terror.
In all cases the ones who suffer are the local population: trapped between two vicious armies, where there are no limits to cruelty and violence. These include the people of the parish of St. Paul, Fizi whom I have met: four years ago they welcomed us at the entry to the town with singing and a great procession: they presented gifts, including a handsome goat: they looked to building a new church, a symbol of a return to peace and good governance: they celebrated this past Christmas hiding in the jungle around their town, too fearful to return to home and hearth, giving thanks for the birth of Christ in the shadows, in secret places, while the powers of evil stalked the paths and byways of their town.
I have been told some sad stories which have been circulated about the church in Congo, L’Église Catholique Anglicane du Congo. There are, for sure, elements which need to be improved: but is this not true of all of us? None of this takes away from the responsibility for the people of the villages, of the towns like Fizi: where ordinary people like you and me try and live out their lives in faith and harmony, but unlike us, must be constantly on the watch for the approach of evil, for the marauder who will torture, maim and kill them with little or no compunction: just like those little birds you can watch outside your kitchen window!
Can you help? In Canada, the Africa Appeal at St. Columba or, in the USA, the Missionary Society of St. Paul (http://www.anglicancatholic.org/MSSP_Flyer_2009.pdf) will ensure that any funds contributed will be sent in full to the church in Congo. (Indicate ‘Congo’ on your cheque.)
Fr. David R. Marriott SSC
Please send your donations (cheques payable to St. Columba of Iona) to:
The Africa Appeal, St. Columba of Iona, c/o Fr. David Marriott, 304-9821 140th Street, Surrey BC, V3T 5R7
The Africa Appeal, St. Columba of Iona, c/o Mr. D. Whitworth, 11070B Sunshine Coast Highway, Halfmoon Bay BC V0N 1Y2