The Pope consoles the Congolese victims: your pain is my pain

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Pope Francis on Wednesday urged the Congolese people to forgive those who committed “inhuman violence” against them, celebrated Mass for a million people and then heard first-hand about the atrocities some of them endured: a teenage girl who was “raped like an animal” for months; a young man He witnesses his father beheaded, a former sex slave who was forced to eat human flesh.

Congolese have traveled from the country’s violence-torn east to the capital, Kinshasa, to inform the pope of the horrific violence they have endured for years, as rebel groups have sought to seize territory in the mineral-rich region through attacks that have displaced more than 5 million people. flee their homes.

Francis sat silently as a victim after the victim came forward to tell their stories. Watch them display at the foot of the cross a symbol of their pain: the sickle used to maim and kill, or the straw bed mat on which they were raped. When they knelt before him for blessing, Francis laid his hand on their heads or on the trunk of the remaining arms.

“Your tears are my tears; your pain is my pain,” Francis told them. “To every family grieving or displaced by burning villages and other war crimes, to survivors of sexual violence and to every injured child and adult, I say: I am with you. I want to bring you God’s embrace.”

The intimate encounter at the Vatican’s embassy in Kinshasa was an extraordinary moment for a priest seeking to comfort his flock, and a moment for a pope seeking to shine a light on what Francis called a “forgotten genocide” that barely makes the news. Despite being home to one of the world’s largest UN peacekeeping operations, eastern Congo has been mired in violence since the early 1990s as rebels and militias vie for control of mineral-rich lands.

“What a scandal and what a hypocrisy, that people are being raped and murdered, while the trade that causes this violence and death continues to flourish!” Francis spoke of the foreign powers and extractive industries exploiting eastern Congo. “Enough!”

Francis had originally planned to visit North Kivu province, where rebel groups intensified attacks last year, when he was initially scheduled to visit in July.

But after the trip was rescheduled, the Vatican had to cancel the visit to Goma because of the fighting that has forced some 5.7 million people to flee their homes, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in Congo, where some 26.4 million people already face hunger, according to The Guardian. British. World Food Program.

Instead, the people of the East came to Francis, and their testimony was most painful.

Ladislas Kambale Kombe, from Beni district in East North Kivu province, told Francis he witnessed men in uniform decapitate his father, put his head in a basket, and then drive off with his mother, who he never saw again.

He said, “At night, I can’t sleep.” “It is hard to comprehend such evil, such animal-like brutality.”

Biju Makumbi Kamala, 17, spoke of being kidnapped in 2020 by rebels in Walikale, North Kivu Province, while on her way to fetch water. Speaking through an interpreter, she said she was raped daily by the chief “like an animal”, until she escaped 19 months later.

“It was useless for me to scream, because no one could hear me or come to my rescue,” she said, adding that she had given birth to twin girls who “will never know their father” and found solace through the services of the Catholic Church.

The Associated Press does not usually identify victims of sexual violence, but those who told their stories to Francis gave their names publicly at the beginning of their testimony.

Imelda Makarhongulu, from a village near Bukavu in Congo’s South Kivu province, spoke through an interpreter that in 2005 armed men held her village as a sexual slave for three months at the age of 16. by five to 10 men who then forced their captives to eat the flesh of the men they had killed, mixed with animal meat and corn paste.

“This was our food every day; whoever refused, he would cut off his head and feed us.” Makarhongulu said she eventually fled one day while fetching water.

While forced cannibalism is not widely known, the United Nations and human rights groups documented how it was used as a weapon of war in the early 2000s in parts of eastern Congo.

A statement prepared months earlier by Désiré Dhetsina on his behalf was read aloud; Dhetsina disappeared after surviving an attack on February 1, 2022, on a camp for internally displaced people in Ituri district, on Congo’s northeastern border with Uganda.

I saw brutality: people carve like meat in a butcher shop; Detsina reported that women were eviscerated, and men were cut. While reading his story to Francis, two women stood in front of the Pope and raised the mutilated stumps of their arms into the air.

Francis condemned the violence and urged the Congolese victims to use their pain for good, to sow peace and reconciliation. It was also a message he sent earlier in the day at Mass to the crowds at Ndulu Airport in Kinshasa, in which he cited the example of Christ forgiving those who betrayed him.

“He showed them his wounds because forgiveness is born from wounds,” said Francis. It is born when our wounds no longer leave scars of hate, but become the means by which we make room for others and accept their weaknesses. Our weakness becomes an opportunity, and forgiveness becomes the path to peace.”

Nearly half of Congo’s population of 105 million are Catholics, according to the Vatican, which also estimated that a million people were on hand for Francis’ Mass, citing local organisers.

Among the faithful was Clement Conde, who traveled from Kisanto, a town in Kongo Central Province, more than 150 kilometers (95 miles) from Kinshasa. He had planned to take part in all of Francis’ events this week before the Pope heads to South Sudan, the second stop on his African trip.

Conde said, “To my children and the boys who remain in my city, I will pass on to them the message of the Holy Father, the message of peace and reconciliation.”


This story has been updated to correct the last name of one person quoted. It’s Condé, not Lundy. ___

Associated Press religious coverage is supported by an Associated Press collaboration with The Conversation US, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. And the AP is solely responsible for this content.

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