We've received horrifying news from Sr. Générose Thérèse, one of our sisters in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) concerning the "Peace March" held in the capital, Kinshasa, on Sunday, January 21. She was part of the march, and offers this eyewitness account of the experience, which left one person dead and many others injured, including one of our Assumptionist brothers, a deacon. Many thanks to Fr. John Franck, AA, who translated this letter for us as soon as we asked. Please pray for the Congolese people at this critical moment in their life as a nation. Thank you.
Soldiers and Police Violently Respond to Peaceful Protests in Kinshasa.
Assumptionist Deacon and Passionist Priest Beaten.
Dear Sisters, dear Friends,
« If the Lord does not watch over the city, in vain do the watchmen keep vigil. » Psalm 126:1b
Many of you have been hoping to receive some news. Finally I can share something with you. Thank you for your prayers for us.
On Sunday, January 21, while at Mass, even though we hadn’t received the final blessing nor even instructions about the upcoming march, we were caught by surprise when tear gas came streaming into the church. It was flying everywhere. We hurried about the church looking for people who had brought margarine to be applied to faces. When they stopped using the tear gas, the celebrant, the pastor of St. Augustine’s, courageously took up the cross, walked in front of the Christian community, and began to march. We followed him. There was a crowd of non-Catholics waiting outside to join us. Within minutes the police attacked us. They grabbed the priest, threw him down into the mud and tore his liturgical vestments. Then the crowd began to disperse. Some courageous young people, however, kept marching up to a point about 10 minutes from the church. There they were ambushed; the police began firing their guns at point blank range; one of the young people was hit and died. They brought his body back to the parish.
Just at this time, Christians from three neighboring parishes (St. Benedict, St. Lawrence, and St. Christina) arrived at St. Augustine’s with the young singing out: « we are united now, we are strong ». The police called for reinforcements. Two truckloads of soldiers in police uniforms with white helmets, known in Kinshasa as Mamadou soldiers, surrounded us. This was the beginning of a war between soldiers backed by police against an unarmed people. I can’t tell you how many canisters of tear gas they fired into a church bulging at the seams. The church was filled with smoke. And they were firing their guns in the air outside. In fact, they were pressuring us not only to put an end to our protest march, but also to grab the body of the young man who had been shot. Actually they had received orders to recover all bodies in order to erase all traces. To their chagrin, journalists had already taken photos. We saw young people climbing over the wall of the church to avoid the bullets; they fell into church plaza wounded by the barbed wire that tried to keep them away. Those who were inside the church grounds were suffocating from the nonstop barrage of tear gas coming from every direction.
At the time they killed the young man, other young people fled into neighboring homes. Then the police and soldiers began ransacking the houses, systematically entering them to flush out the « offenders” and arrest them. Even those who hadn’t marched with these Christians were arrested.
Finally, around noon, using heavy force, they decided to break through and enter the church itself. They evacuated the crowd inside and recovered the young man’s body that we had hidden in the parish secretary’s office. There wasn’t even a sheet to cover his body. Fortunately I had brought an extra sarong (an African pagne) thinking that I might need it myself if anything happened to me. I gave it up to cover the body. A taxi arrived with the Red Cross that brought the corpse to the morgue. Strange, it was the parish that paid for the body of this young man to be embalmed. We had called MONUSCO (United Nations Security Forces in the Congo) several times, hoping in vain that they would come quickly to our aid. The MONUSCO personnel arrived just when the church had been emptied. We were no longer encircled by those notorious soldiers, known as the « bad guys » by the inhabitants of Kinshasa.
As a matter of fact, we found out that a number of churches had been targeted. Police had been ordered to use every means possible to prevent us from marching, especially those of us from St. Augustine’s, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Alphonse’s, and Saint Christopher’s, Saint Francis de Sales’ where a young candidate for religious life was killed, ironically the daughter of an army colonel. I forget the name of the other targeted parishes.
On this occasion, the police and the soldiers were more violent toward the clergy. One of our Assumptionist brothers, a deacon, was struck repeatedly; a Passionist, pastor of a church, was undressed and beaten in front of his parishioners; several other members of the clergy were tortured at the headquarters of the National Intelligence Agency.
One would have thought that we were living back in the era of the Soviet regime. During the celebration of Mass, there were young people paid by the government to inform them of how the Mass was going. That is why they knew the moment to begin firing the tear gas. Sr. Clémentine Myriam, R.A., asserted that two young people right next to her were in contact with the authorities by SMS the whole time. Two aspirants said the same thing, and as our Calvary came to an end, two choir members also confirmed their testimony. How sad!
Tear gas has effects of which we were unaware. We all had tears in our eyes in spite of the margarine we had put on our faces; many were coughing. There were some whose skin began to peel off when the gas reached their bodies given how forcefully it was being fired. Even several days after the event, faces still felt burnt and eyes as well. Some people had sore throats.
Clémentine Myriam and I returned to the community a little before 1 PM, finally leaving « our open-air prison, » as Cardinal Monsengwo underlined in his message on January 21.
This day was full of stress, even more than on December 31 for the people who were present then. The Catholic Church is considering maintaining the fight. In February another march is being planned. I believe others will join us.
Even families of soldiers and police officers are thinking at last of joining the Church to protest. This Calvary touched them, especially the death of their daughter, the young aspirant nun, Thérèse. People are beginning to understand that this struggle being waged by the Church concerns the whole country.
Here is the little we can share with you about what we lived through.
Sr. Générose Thérèse, R.A.
(from the Vatican news service)
Pope Francis appeals for peace in DRC
Pope Francis on Wednesday, January 24, reiterated his appeal for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
By Linda Bordoni