By Fr. D. R. Marriott SSC
Special to VirtueOnline
February 24, 2010
The source of this negativity relates to a number of unproven allegations of various improprieties relating to time spent in South Africa by the vicar general of the ECAC. These matters are now at a distance of some six years, but little has been said about the current situation of the church in the Congo itself. Perhaps this is because there has only been one outside visitor in all those years: me.
Indeed, one comment has been that, when I visited, I was subjected to what might be called "rent a crowd," the bringing in of a large group of outsiders to convince the visitor of the size of the church. But how many outsiders would know the hymns by heart, would know the prayers, would know the people? When you have lived through the hell of a war, of the violence of a variety of militia groups, of murder and pillage, of rape as a weapon of war, the very fact of an outsider coming to see where you live, indeed, yes this is something new, and so I agree there was, as might be expected, an interest from many outside of the church. However, it is also true that the vast majority of the folk that I met in South Kivu, Congo, are the members of the church, members of the various parishes and chapels in all the towns I was privileged to visit as we drove along the western coastline of Lake Tanganyika.
The church is not one person; that would be ridiculous, but that is what has been depicted in many of the comments. The current membership of the church in South Kivu and in its adjacent provinces is over 3000 faithful and devout Christians. There are three priests. One has seen his father lose his life by murder, killed by insurgents intent on causing mayhem. Another had to travel with his family to neighbouring Tanzania in order to escape the violence in his homeland. One village had a sign: "Massacre of Makobola/Bangue" - it is here that the people of the village were massacred by insurgents on the 30th December 1998, and the sign indicates that the mass grave is 600 meters just up the road. And yet life goes on, children are born, crops grow, young couples marry, and man tries to comprehend.
If you ask the government, wherever you live, about travel to South Kivu, you will get a quick reply: don't. It is dangerous, but if that is where you live and where you belong, you rely on the support that you might get from those brave enough to continue, to build, to grow, and to redevelop a civilized society from nothing, from utter destruction even when those who have caused the destruction are still there, are still lurking in the shadows, in the jungle, so that they can profit by the chaos and steal the mineral wealth hidden below those green and fertile fields.
At one point, four men came to meet me by the "highway" down from the jungle, over the hills of the Mitumba Mountains. They were four men studying for ordination, but in the most deprived conditions. They were gracious even when our visit was so very limited. They had walked two days to get to meet me and were faced with two days to walk back to their villages in the jungle. Nevertheless, they were inspired by the Word of God that they could make a difference in the lives of those in the villages and that they could start to rebuild civil society after all the damages done over so many years by their own governments and by the war that had so damaged their nation.
Have you ever been welcomed by a procession? That happened not once but several times. It was to celebrate the arrival of someone from outside, not from the UN refugee offices, or from the NGOs like Doctors Without Borders, but someone from their church: who worshipped as they do. As we entered several villages, we were welcomed by such a procession: with joy, hymns and happiness, children and adults all together, as we walked in great happiness to the church, often a simple thatched roof over a small table for the altar, covered by a clean fresh linen cloth, with cross and candles.
But how can the church function: all 78 chapels, with only three priests? It depends on the dedicated work of the 10 ordinands and the 78 lay catechists who take on the task of regular teaching for their chapel, who lead worship in the offices of morning and evening prayer, who coordinate the work of the church in between the visits of the priest with the Eucharist, which is administered four times each year. This is work done to the Glory of God, it is work that is bred from disaster, and the earnest desire to see the country of the Democratic Republic of Congo grow to fulfil the incredible promise so that their children's children might start to see some of the benefits which we in the west take so for granted. They look forward to such things as roads, transport, safety from sexual assault and rape, education, work in safe conditions, health care, protection from harm by the effective role of police and security services.
Pray for the people of the ECAC, pray for the security of those who risk their lives to bring the Word of God to them, pray that they may live in peace, that they may live to see the result of their sacrifices, that they might live in peace, and that we, from the western world, might find it possible to visit in peace and safety, to see this beautiful and pleasant land in all its glory.
---Fr. D R Marriott SSC is Associate Curate at St. Peter and St. Paul Anglican Catholic Church in Vancouver BC Canada