AFRICA/DR CONGO - "In eastern Congo the situation is unbearable," says Fr. Luis Arcos, explaining why the Pope has given up on going there

Tuesday, 31 January 2023 missionaries   pope francis   armed groups   displaced persons  

Goma (Agenzia Fides) - "Why is the Pope not going to the east? Because it is an unbearable situation. There is a risk that they will throw a bomb and kill innocent people," says Father Luis Arcos, a White Father of Spanish nationality who has been a missionary in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo for 52 years. In the program of the visit that Pope Francis should have made to the DRC and South Sudan in July 2022 and which was later postponed, a visit to Goma was planned unlike the current trip which begins today, January 31 and where a stop in the capital of North Kivu is not scheduled.
A visit to Goma was planned in the schedule for the later postponed trip that Pope Francis was to make to the DRC and South Sudan in July 2022, but on the trip that begins today, Jan. 31, the stop in the capital city of North Kivu is not there.
"In fact," explains Fr. Luis, "when preparations for his visit began, there were already many problems and several victims caused by the more than 100 different armed groups present in the province. And insecurity breeds poverty for many," stresses Fr. Luis, who sums up the situation with this image: "You can't leave your house after 6 p.m.; my Congolese confreres can't visit their parents who are 50 kilometers from Goma."
Keep in mind that Goma is an overcrowded city because of the people who have moved there from villages in North Kivu in search of a minimum of security. "Goma has seen its population grow from 300,000 to 1.5 million inhabitants in 30 years," the missionary reports. "They come from the interior areas of North Kivu to Goma because it is safer, but there are killings in its surroundings as well. The Italian ambassador Luca Attanasio was killed 20 kilometers from where I was," says Fr. Luis. "And in Goma the displaced also find the Nyiragongo volcano, which remains active, and which swept away 3,000 houses two years ago."
Like all missionaries who work in eastern DRC, Father Luis stresses that at the heart of the drama of these lands is the struggle for control and exploitation of the immense mineral wealth of these regions. Referring to the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces), the armed group of Ugandan origin also known as the Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP, see Fides, 16/1/2023). "We've been talking about Islamism for a few years, but we didn't talk about it before. The problem is more political and economic than religious, because the Democratic Republic of Congo has coltan, a very important mineral for the development of the poorest countries. It's a huge mineral wealth, but who benefits from it?"
Father Luis has been in four different Congolese dioceses during his 52 years of mission in the DRC, and has witnessed the profound transformation of the Congolese Church. "All the bishops are now Congolese, there are no whites. There are also fewer and fewer Missionaries of Africa of European origin. There are more and more African missionaries to continue missionary life". From Pope Francis' visit, the missionary expects "a word of hope, and of courage, because coming to Congo in this situation was a gesture of courage". (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 31/1/2023)