‘Pray for peace in the Congo’ – Pope’s visit opened a door to hope, priest and refugee say

Barb Arland-Fye
Father Apo Mpanda wears a chasuble from an African papal Mass at Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire last month.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

A diocesan priest and a refugee, both from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and now longtime residents of the Davenport Diocese, say Pope Francis’ recent visit to their beloved homeland draws much-needed attention to a nation ravaged by conflict.

Pope Francis traveled to the Congo and to South Sudan for an apostolic visit Jan. 31-Feb. 5 aimed at fostering peace and reconciliation in both countries. In the Congo, the Holy Father listened to the stories of survivors who described horrific experiences of rape, who witnessed loved ones murdered in front of them, who watched helplessly as oppressors snatched their parents from them.

The Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi told the Holy Father during their meeting Jan. 31 that in the past 30 years “the enemies of peace, as well as terrorist groups, mainly from neighboring countries” has undermined the welcome and harmony that characterized Congo for centuries (OSV, 1-31-23).


The Congo is torn by war because of its minerals — among them gold, copper, diamonds and coltan, a key ingredient in electric car batteries and cell phones — says Father Apo Mpanda. He also


said this country in central Africa has a vast rainforest, second only to the Amazon. The pastor of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire and Church of the Visitation in Camanche knows the Congo well because it is his homeland and he was ordained a priest there in 1988. He and Veve Nduhirahe, a Congolese refugee and member of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville, both ask the people of the Davenport Diocese to learn more about the Congo and to pray for peace there.

Father Apo was among 2,000 priests and hundreds of bishops and cardinals who concelebrated Mass with Pope Francis on Feb. 1 at the Ndolo Airport in Kinshasa, the Congo’s capital. Father Mpanda said he planned his trip to coincide with the pope’s visit. “When I heard the pope was going to the Congo and praying with the people for peace in the Congo, I said it was a good time to go,” he told The Catholic Messenger.

“The turnout to welcome the pope was overwhelming in Kinshasa,” Father Mpanda said in a column he wrote for “The Lighthouse,” the LeClaire parish’s newsletter. He described highlights from each day’s events. Summarizing Pope Francis’ message to youths at Martyrs Stadium, Father Apo said, “he urged young people to work for a better future in their nation by reflecting on five ingredients: prayer, community, honesty, forgiveness and service.”

Father Mpanda also shared his deep concern for the suffering the people of his homeland endure. He said, “almost all of the Congo minerals end up in the hands of foreign powers and neighboring countries of Rwanda and Uganda. That is the source of the unfair war imposed on the Congo. Over 20 million people have been killed, and women and children raped.”

He said the “Catholic Church has always played a role in the Congo, especially in promoting democracy, human rights and health care. More than half the population is Catholic. That is why the pope’s visit was a great opportunity for advocating for an end to this unfair war and for security in the Congo.”

Pope Francis’ concluding message especially resonated with Father Mpanda: “Hands off the DRC, hands off Africa! Stop choking Africa. It is not a mine to be stripped or terrain to be plundered.” The Holy Father also addressed the international community, which “has practically resigned itself to the violence devouring” the Congo. He called for a renewed effort to support development and peace in the African nation (Vatican News, Jan. 31, 2023).

Nduhirahe, who fled the Congo in 1999 with her husband and seven children, emphasizes the need to make known what is happening in the Congo. “What concerns me is the welfare of the mothers and children and the family as a whole,” she said.

During her visits to the Congo (she was not there for the pope’s visit), she has met the survivors of rape. In a conservative society such as in the Congo, rape brings shame and stigma to the survivors, some of whom become pregnant and endure ostracism as they raise the children of their rapists, Nduhirahe said. “Dignity and respect are gone. When you have a child (born as a result of rape) that child has no identity.”

She referred to the pope meeting with survivors of the atrocities, including a 17-year-old mother carrying twin babies, conceived as the result of rape. The teen said her rapist, who abused her repeatedly, treated her like an animal. This situation “is destroying the community,” Nduhirahe said. “In the African community, when you silence a woman, you kill the family and the whole clan collapses.”

She and Father Mpanda, who know each other, ask for prayers for the people of the Congo. “Let’s continue to pray for peace in the world, especially in Ukraine, the Congo and the USA by participating in adoration, Stations of the Cross and daily Mass,” Father Mpanda said. Nduhirahe adds, “Pray for people to understand what is going on in the world.”

Support The Catholic Messenger’s mission to inform, educate and inspire the faithful of the Diocese of Davenport – and beyond! Subscribe to the print and/or e-edition, or make a one-time donation, today!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted on