Catholic priests in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have gone into hiding due to the increasing attacks on church properties following the collapse of the Church’s attempts to broker peace between the government and political leaders.
Violence erupted in eastern Congo in late March after Catholic bishops abandoned attempts to arrange a government–opposition power-sharing settlement, Catholic Herald reported.
“The militias are continuing their macabre operations – each passing day sees new killings and burning of religious buildings,” the bishops said in a statement.
“The worst affected is the Diocese of Luebo, where the bishop’s house, library, sisters’ convent and vehicles have been burned, and priests and religious have fled to the forest with other inhabitants. The situation is harsh and unbearable,” the statement continued.
Luebo is a town in the DRC’s restive Kasai province, which has been plagued by violence between the Congolese security forces and a local militia group, Kamuina Nsapu. The militia has been trying to avenge the death of their leader who was killed by the security forces in August 2016.
Abbot Charles Mukubayi, one of the leaders of the Caritas Diocese of the town of Luebo, lamented the fact that the property of the Catholic church has been targeted in the attacks.
“They went down to Lunkelu, the [place] where priests are trained and they have ransacked everything,” the abbot narrated.
“I tell you that the abbots are up there in the bush. As soon as they leave (the bush), they want to kill them,” he added.
The incident in Luebo came after unidentified armed men carried out an attack on the parish of St. Mary of Lukalaba, located some 50km from Mbuji Mayi, in Kasaï-Oriental.
In February, attackers who were identified as members of Kamuina Nsapu vandalized the Grand Malcolm Seminary in Kananga in Central Kasai.
Pope Francis condemned the ongoing violence in the Kasaï during an open-air mass on April 2 in the Italian northern town of Carpi. He called for peace in the provinces of Kasaï, Kasaï Central, Kasaï Oriental and Lomami, and he said that the fighting has already resulted in human casualties and displaced persons.
He further noted that the violence had also affected “members and properties of the Church, churches, hospitals and schools.”
There had been concerns that armed groups may be trying to exploit the prevailing political uncertainty to cause widespread violence and instability in the country. Almost 6 million people were killed in the 1996–2003 conflict over the nation’s transfer of power.