AFRICA/D.R. CONGO - World Mission Day: the experience of a missionary who visits prisoners

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Com. S. Egidio

Bukavu (Agenzia Fides) - Every week Alex Goffinet, a French white father who has been on a mission in Africa since 1962, visits the prison in Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
He listens to prisoners, gives them advice and intercedes for them with prison authorities. Despite being 86 years old, he is still very active and, among the many commitments that he still carries out, there is that of assistance to prisoners. Agenzia Fides has gathered his testimony in view of World Mission Day, which is celebrated on October 21st.
"Providence", he observes, "has allowed me to still have the strength to work in Africa, having said that, what can an old missionary ever need in a troubled country like the D.R. of Congo?". One day, says Father Alex, a novice named Arsène invited him to accompany him to the central prison of Bukavu, the capital of Kivu. "It is an indescribable place, full of misery, but at the same time I asked myself: what is the sense of being a missionary other than to be close to the last? Since then, every Wednesday morning, together with members of the pastoral team, I go to the prison".
The prison in Bukavu is a sort of infernal circle. Two thousand people are crowded, in a precarious hygienic condition and in total promiscuity, in a structure that had been built to house 350 inmates. People serving a life sentence share the same spaces as those guilty of minor crimes.
The penitentiary of Bukavu is no exception to the country's prisons. The US State Department reports that "most of the prisons in the D.R. Congo are difficult and life-threatening". An assessment shared by the NGO Freedom House that in the report "Freedom the World 2017" states that most prisons have food shortages, are overcrowded and there are inadequate health conditions.
"In the prison of Bukavu - the old missionary continues - we are close to the prisoners, we try to listen to them and meet their basic needs, and we are very pleased that the collaboration with the authorities is good. Since September 2017 to today we have obtained the release of 415 prisoners".
The release of an inmate requires a legal proceeding that costs $ 50, a high sum in the D.R. of Congo. "The generosity of many has supported us - concludes Father Alex - but we are not an NGO, we do not have an office, everything is voluntary, we pay from our pocket to travel by public transport, we are close to the last and this is our way of being missionaries". (EC) (Agenzia Fides, 20/10/2018)