A brief look at the brothers and sisters of the
National Fraternity of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Hervé Sylva sfo
From May 8th to 21st, 2006, a fraternal and pastoral visit was conducted to the National Fraternity of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. During this visit, Hervé Sylva, CIOFS Presidency Councillor for French-Speaking Nations, represented the General Minister while Fr. Ivan Matic represented the Conference of General Assistants.
We cannot remain unmoved by the suffering being endured by our brothers and sisters of the Congo, who regularly cry out in anguish at having to reek out a meagre existence in a nation that is very rich but that is populated by people who are poor and dispossessed. Lack of infrastructure, roads in disrepair, no postal delivery, no schools for the poor, no drinking water in certain highly populated areas, exploitation of child labour, and meagre salaries for officials who very often do not get paid at the end of the month. The people are hungry and need basic assistance to live. Many have nothing to eat, nothing to drink and no clothes to wear. That said, the people of the Congo are a courageous people. They are simply looking for the essential necessities of life to survive.
The fraternal and pastoral visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (followed by the Elective National Chapter) was welcomed by the entire Franciscan family in the Congo, religious and seculars alike, like a breath of fresh air, and in a spirit of hospitality and joy that is characteristic of the Congolese people. Visits to the different regions and fraternities were significant moments of communion among the brothers and sisters. The exchanges were direct, sincere, clear and profound in spite of situations that were somewhat delicate. The experience was lived by the visitors as moments of grace. The meetings with groups and individuals unfolded in a receptive atmosphere that was welcoming and full of humility on the one hand, and of wisdom and understanding on the other. In spite of the difficult conditions lived by the brothers and sisters, there are many religious, social and charitable activities in which to engage, most requiring large sacrifices and extraordinary efforts, both personally and collectively. Mutual aid between the members is a reality. Of particular interest is a military fraternity within the National Army of a country torn apart by civil war.
To assist its members, the Regina Mundi de Lubumbashi Fraternity is acting upon an original idea of developing a chicken cooperative. One of the fraternity’s members has accepted to begin the project by raising ten chickens. The eggs are sold to members of the fraternity at a reduced price. When the first brood of chicks are hatched, ten chicks will be given to another member of the fraternity who will raise these chicks in the same manner as the first. From year to year, from brood to brood, the number of people raising chickens will increase and, with more experience and professionalism, the cooperative will become a reality.
Each fraternity fights to keep its members and to discretely find opportunities to meet. Some fraternities consist of eighty or more engaged and active members. However, the war between tribes and clans has caused much pain. Members of a fraternity can be dispersed hundreds of kilometres apart, without adequate transportation to gather. Some have even had to flee the region but, oh, what joy when they are reunited in Chapter. Over and over again, the theme of the gathering seemed to be "what joy!". What a joy it was to meet the brother of the SFO from Kabinda who had walked more than 100 kilometres during a period of three days to represent his region at the Chapter held in Mbuji Mayi with the Poor Clares.
Fully aware of the efforts made by the brothers and sisters of the SFO in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and their faithfulness despite their precarious situation, the International Presidency demonstrated their support by providing, to the extent possible, French formation materials in high demand by all, especially by Franciscan Youth known as the "Young Friends of St. Francis". The Secular Franciscan Order in Canada has also been contacted to assist in this regard.
Let us hope that, with the recent national elections within the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the first in over forty years, a wind of change will blow across this nation. It is hoped that real change will take place in this nation in support of establishing a culture founded on human rights and the development of all people in a society based on the ideals of justice and solidarity where people are called to live in communion with God and in peace with their brothers and sisters. In the meantime, however, the Congolese people need some support from the rest of us. Fraternities who think they may be able to help are invited to follow the example of the International Presidency. A small gesture, a thought, a small gift and, of course, your prayers will certainly be appreciated by the brothers and sisters of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.