DECATUR, Ga. – Religion and science have intertwined in Divine Word Father Jean Ikanga's life and it began with a fearful mother.

Published in International

MANCHESTER, England – Global demand for metallic ores used in cellphones is thwarting efforts to end war and violence in Congo, said an African priest.

Published in International

KINSHASA, Congo – Congo's bishops said Catholics are facing a new wave of violence following the collapse of a church mediation plan, and in some places church leaders have fled to the forest.

Published in International

KINSHASA, Congo – Congo's bishops criticized continued obstruction of a church-brokered peace accord and urged citizens not to blame Catholics for the deadlock.

Published in International

OXFORD, England – Church leaders and organizations in Africa, Europe and the United States said it would be disastrous if U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order telling companies they no longer had to disclose whether their firms use "conflict minerals" from Congo.

Published in International

OXFORD, England – Catholic leaders in Congo said they hope for lasting peace, after the bishops' conference helped mediate a government-opposition accord.

Published in International

KINSHASA, Congo – Congolese President Joseph Kabila expressed support for Catholic bishops' efforts to mediate a constitutional crisis after he extended his term in office.

Published in International

KINSHASA, Congo – The Catholic Church has pulled out of a national dialogue in Congo.

Published in International

QUEBEC CITY – For Father Gaston Ndaleghana Mumbere, the feast of the Assumption represents his hope for better tomorrows for Congo.

Published in International

OXFORD, England - Congo's Catholic bishops criticized the failure of Western governments to stop the abuse of the continent's natural resources and urged church groups to follow the pope's call to mobilize.

Published in International

BUKAVU, Congo - Bishops from eastern Congo criticized the failure of their government and the United Nations to act against "genocide, jihadist fundamentalism and Balkanization" in the country, which is widely considered Africa's most Catholic.

Published in International

KINSHASA, Congo (CNS) -- As Congolese rebels initiated what appeared to be a partial withdrawal from the city of Goma, a Catholic organization said the region's civilians remained either on the run or terrified that their community would be the next target for a rebel attack.

Published in International

YAMBIO, South Sudan (CNS) -- As the military hunt for Joseph Kony continues throughout this region, refugees who fled across the border from Congo to escape his Lord's Resistance Army say their welcome in South Sudan is wearing thin.

"I want to go home, but I'm afraid of Kony. As soon as the LRA is gone, I'll go back. It's my country," said Bernadet Adesa, 35, who lives in the Makpandu refugee camp near the border.

"This has been a good place for us, but every day there are more and more problems between us and the South Sudanese. If anything bad happens here, we Congolese get blamed for it," she said.

A Catholic priest who lives in the camp said the refugees are caught between being harassed inside South Sudan or returning to the Congo where the LRA, although weakened, still rampages through the forest, robbing, abducting and killing.

"The Congolese no longer feel welcome here. They live on land that's not theirs, and their freedom to work and make money has been curtailed," Italian Comboni Father Mario Benedetti told Catholic News Service.

After 38 years as a missionary in Congo, Father Benedetti accompanied the refugees to South Sudan in 2008. Today his parish is the refugee camp -- a ramshackle collection of mud huts 25 miles from Yambio.

Father Benedetti suggests tough economic times are at the root of the tension. South Sudan has been in a crisis since January, when the government in Juba cut off the oil it pumps through pipelines that run through neighboring Sudan. A Sept. 27 agreement between the two governments will restart the oil flow, but it will take months for the situation to improve.

"The Congolese are harder workers than the South Sudanese. They're better businesspeople. They can make enough money to buy a motorcycle, and the South Sudanese can't, so they get jealous of the refugees," the priest said.

Authorities have closed a market the refugees opened in the middle of their camp, forcing them to cross the road to buy basic supplies in a Sudanese market. Father Benedetti said the police had prohibited the Congolese from selling bags of charcoal along the road.

"The South Sudanese who live nearby weren't happy because of the competition. So now the refugees can only sell charcoal from their huts, but who's going to stop their car on the road and walk into the camp?" he asked.

Father Benedetti said a local radio station in Yambio is constantly insulting the Congolese and blaming them for every problem, a role he compared to Radio Mille Collines in Rwanda during that country's genocide.

"They're trying to discourage and frighten us, so we'll go back home. But it's not safe there yet. And here the Congolese have health care and schools, services they'd have to pay for back in the Congo," he said.

The bishop of the border area, who was a refugee in Congo and the Central African Republic, said he has spoken with local political officials about the harassment.

"Some of the local political leaders at times fail to respect the rights of the refugees, who are supposed to be protected and not harassed," Bishop Edward Hiiboro Kussala of Tombura-Yambio told Catholic News Service. "The host nation has the obligation to care for these people. But there's little knowledge of this, despite the fact that many of us were once refugees in their country."

The bishop said some refugees have felt forced by the harassment to return to Congo, which was not a safe option.

Security in the immediate area of the border has improved in the last year, in part because of the arrival of U.S. troops dispatched to help area armies combat the LRA. Yet Father Benedetti said he is disappointed in the results.

The U.S. soldiers "say they're here to observe and train other soldiers. But so far we don't know what they're doing," he said. "Yet just as they found Bin Laden, why can't they find Kony? It's an international shame."

Italian Comboni Sister Giovanna Calabria works in the nearby town of Nzara, where some of the U.S. troops are based as part of a joint operation with a special contingent of Ugandan troops.

"People here were happy when they (Americans) came. But no one is sure what they're doing now. I have the impression that their wings are cut. I don't hear that from them, as they keep their mouths closed. But I hear it from others," she said.

Bishop Kussala said that while stepped-up military patrols have recently kept Kony's forces at bay, the area is not truly at peace.

"As long as he's still in the forest, it's a negative peace. There may not be shooting, but the enemy hasn't been arrested and removed," he said.

Bishop Kussala said the church faces a variety of challenges in helping people move back home to rural settlements they abandoned when the LRA roamed the area. He also expressed concern for what might happen with community-based militias, widely known as the "Arrow Boys," which formed to defend isolated communities from LRA violence.

"If the LRA isn't there anymore, they'll find someone to replace the LRA, because they're accustomed to having weapons and moving around. So we're starting a rehabilitation program for these young men, but we need support," he said.

The bishop said that while he supported the military campaign to capture Kony, he was also pushing a diplomatic approach.

"They've employed a military approach to Kony here since 2007, and they still haven't captured him. So we just sent three priests to the Congo to talk about organizing a regional conference to see how the church could deal with this," Bishop Kussala said.

Sister Calabria said she doubts that diplomacy, religious or otherwise, will work.

"There is only one way to stop Kony," she said. "I don't want to kill him. If he is killed, it's his fault because he doesn't surrender.

She said Kony was "not a normal person, and he's forced many other people to not be normal anymore.

"Probably I'm not a good Christian, but it's time to stop him," she added.

Published in International

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (CNS) -- Amid increasing violence in eastern Congo, Pope Benedict XVI called for peaceful dialogue and greater protection of civilians there.

After praying the Angelus with pilgrims gathered in the courtyard of the papal summer residence Sept. 30, the pope said he was following, "with love and concern," the events unfolding in Congo.

Government soldiers have been stationed in Goma in the eastern part of the country for several months to fight the rebel group called "M23," which defected from the Congolese military.

Clashes, which intensified in the spring, have led more than 300,000 people to flee their homes, according to Vatican Radio.

The United Nations has said Rwandan defense officials are backing the rebel group, which has been accused of rape and the murder of civilians in its effort to control Congo's mineral-rich North Kivu province. Rwandan officials have denied allegations of assisting the rebels.

The pope said his prayers were with the "refugees, women and children, who because of prolonged armed clashes are subjected to suffering, violence and deep distress."

The pope called for the "peaceful means of dialogue and the protection of many innocent people" so that peace -- founded on justice -- may quickly return to the nation and the whole region.

Published in International

TORONTO - With a death toll estimated at 5.4 million and climbing and a campaign of rape reshaping the nation, Congolese religious leaders arrived in Canada with a petition signed by more than one million Congolese and a request that Canadians support practical measures for peace at the United Nations.

“You have a voice and your voice is strong to stop this war. You have the means to stop this war. And you have a way,” Bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda of the United Methodist Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo told The Catholic Register.

The bishop was part of a delegation that visited the Toronto School of Theology at the University of Toronto in mid-September. The delegation was at the university to speak to students about the effects of the war after meeting earlier in Ottawa with Canadian government officials.

The war in the Congo has officially been over since the Sun City Agreement installed a government of national unity under President Joseph Kabila in 2003, but in the eastern provinces militias and government troops continue to battle for control over lucrative mines. The most notorious of the militias, the M23 Movement, has had the quiet backing of the Rwandan government and finds refuge across the border.

In June United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called M23 leaders “among the worst perpetrators of human rights violations in the Congo, or in the world.” Human Rights Watch reports that since June M23 fighters have deliberately killed at least 15 civilians. They have also raped at least 46 women and girls — the youngest just eight years old. They killed a 25-year-old pregnant woman because she resisted and two other women died from wounds inflicted by their rapists, the organization says.

While the UN has one of its largest peacekeeping missions stationed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the troops lack basic equipment and the mandate is so weak it would be better to describe them as an observer mission, said Prof. Raymond Mutombo.

“We do not specifically ask Canada to reinforce the UN mission with troops as such,” said Mutombo. “But the request we’ve placed is to support our petition to the United Nations.”

The petition asks for a more robust peacekeeping mandate for troops.

“Canada certainly could do it,” said John Seibert, executive director of Project Ploughshares, a Kitchener, Ont.-based ecumenical think tank dedicated to peace and defence issues supported by the Canadian Council of Churches.

Canada wouldn’t have to dedicate large numbers of troops to the Congo to make a difference, Seibert said. Canada’s French-speaking officer corps, tactics, heavy transport equipment and communications equipment would give the UN mission a huge advantage over rebel groups that employ drugged-up child soldiers with AK-47 automatic rifles.

“Look at the equipment and experience gained in the Afghanistan mission — highly mobile, tough as nails, people who know how to interact with cultural difference,” said Seibert.

Getting the international community to condemn Rwanda has been a tough sell, said Mutombo.

“From 1994 when the genocide took place in Rwanda, the international community has been taken hostage,” he said.

Guilt over the international community’s inaction during the Rwandan genocide prevents criticism of its government.

“(Rwandan President) Paul Kagame is still held in some esteem because of his stopping the genocide and bringing stability to Rwanda,” said Seibert. “That does not give him a get-out-of-jail-free card on activities in the DRC.”

Much of the fighting is over control of coltan, or more formally columbite-tantalite, an essential ingredient in the capacitors at the heart of cellphones, tablet computers, hearing aids, pacemakers and other products. As of 2009, 44.3 per cent of the world’s coltan originated in the Congo, compared to just 3.7 per cent in Canada.

Research In Motion, the Canadian company whose Blackberry phones constitute about 10 per cent of the world’s smartphones, has a “responsible minerals policy” and a “supplier code of conduct” to ensure it does not use conflict minerals in its phones. But corrupt businesses in Rwanda working with M23 rebels are able to disguise the origins of coltan they sell on the international market, according to the Congolese Church leaders.

“Coltan is just a mineral. Human life is more than a mineral,” said Ntanda. “Human life is being destroyed for no reason. People are being killed for no reason.”

The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace said it hears the same demands for international intervention to stop the violence from its partners in the Congo, said program officer Serge Blais. Development and Peace works extensively with the Congo’s Catholic bishops on projects that encourage people to engage in the democratic process.

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA
Page 1 of 2