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Easter in a War Zone: One Missionary's Account of the Holy Week

Fr. Gabriel Kayeya, CICM-AFA     May 10, 2017 7:31:00 AM

cross with bible.jpgSt. Albertine parish is located in a small semi-rural village not far from downtown Kananga in the Democratic Republic of Congo. At one time, this village had a bad reputation because it was the stronghold of thieves and bandits, who after stealing in the city, would come and hide there. Today, much of the DRC is being torn apart by violence between the government and militia groups, and the Church is often threatened by the fighting.

Even before Holy Week, Christians in our region were threatened by the insecure atmosphere on the City of Kananga. For example, there were the Chief Kamuina Nsapu militiamen who sow desolation across the region. Because of this, the majority of the population, and in particularly those of St. Albertine and other surrounding parishes, had to hide in the bush at night to protect themselves from the violence. It was only during daytime that some people could return to the village.

The History of the Militia

Initially, the law enforcement agencies ignored Nsapu’s militia, but as police officers were beheaded and buildings destroyed, the State quickly reevaluated the threat level. To make matters worse, new militia groups without any scruples about killing civilians, continue to form.

In addition to these militia groups, our greatest concern in the DRC is the new movements that are anti-Catholic. These groups do not like to see the nuns dressed in their habits, they don't allow priests to say Masses, the convents of sisters are vandalized, Catholic schools are being forced to close, the vehicles of the Luebo Diocese are burned, the residence of the Bishop of Luebo has been burned. Due to insecurity, the United Nations has asked the Bishop of Lwiza to leave his residence in order to be in security in Kinshasa.

An Easter Spent in Terror

On Holy Saturday morning around 10 a.m., when I arrived in the parish, I learned that a large group of militiamen had gathered not far from our parish for their own reasons. Knowing that their presence in any area often attracts the incursion of the military and police in their pursuit, all Christians were on alert and ready to escape in the event of open hostilities. It is in this atmosphere that we began our Easter Vigil.

To prevent the deaths of our people, Archbishop Marcel Madila instructed the priests to begin the Easter Vigil at 4 p.m. instead of at sunset, in order to ensure that parishioners were able to go home before dark. And so, we had an Easter (afternoon) Vigil--even though it was a bit strange to raise the Paschal candle and to sing, "The Light of Christ..." while it was still daylight!

While I was celebrating Mass, I could see parents running everywhere inside the church to pick up their children and take them home. From the altar, I couldn’t do anything to calm down all those who were afraid. All over the city, we could hear the crackle of bullets, a kind of music that no one wants to hear. It was a nightmare: in my 19 years of priesthood, I have never witnessed something this frightening during such a holy time.

The next morning, a good number of Christians who were hiding in the bush came to Easter Sunday Mass. Suffering from lack of sleep, these people were still able to praise God for having kept them safe from the violence of the militiamen on one side and the military on the other side.

What you can do to help:

Who can help us? My people are massacred like animals...we have no more tears to shed, we have stopped crying. The easiest thing to do would be to bury those who have been killed without any consideration and to remain calm without shedding tears. Here in the Central Kasai province, unlike in the past, the corpse of a person scares nobody, not even the children. Even though we may feel abandoned to our fate, I do believe that the Most High won’t completely abandon us. One day He will stand up, He will raise His holy arm, and He will free us from those who are slaying us without any respect.

Dear brothers and sisters, may the Risen Christ help us stand firm in our faith in Him in this time of great tribulations. What we would like to ask from you is only a prayer. Please pray for us: implore God’s mercy on us so that we may have peace, which is the unique base of development and progress for all peoples.


Blessed be the Risen Christ forever!


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Topics: Stories from the Field, Easter

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About This Blog

Missionhurst Missionaries build Catholic communities in frontier situations: places where the gospel is not preached or lived. This blog is about their work in the four corners of the globe, and their holistic work in four areas of focus: relief and healthcare, socio-economic development, education, and pastoral work.

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