In the Democratic Republic of Congo
Here we are in Lubumbashi, the “capital of copper”, situated more than 2000 kilometres from Kinshasa, the political capital of the country. At the airport, we did not expect such a welcome! It was beyond anything I imagined. Young and not so young had come all the way to welcome us. Some of them even brought flowers! What a joy to be welcomed by friends we know us, but also by so many young people, most of whom do not even know our community. There was even the local TV which followed our visit by broadcasting each day part of our meetings and visits.
We met people who told us about their first contact with Taizé in the 1970s. It was from these meetings that the local “youth ministry” was born, and which now forms the nucleus of youth training here. Some of the young people accompanied us all the time, for the visits and to meet the religious leaders, as for example at the seminary at Kafutu. At Kafutu, we met the bishop, and later there was a very friendly meeting with the future priests.
In Lubumbashi, the visit to a reception centre for “girls at risk” (in other words, street girls) run by Ursuline sisters was a deeply moving experience; especially seeing these very young girls, some of whom were perhaps 7 years old, beaming with joy and with gratitude towards the sisters. What harmony! I think they have found in the sisters what they missed in life: the presence of their parents. What suffering these girls have been through! We listened as one of the sisters told us about the difficulties the girls had undergone, including violence of all kinds.
On Friday, the young people had organized a small meeting at the Lutheran Church, followed by prayer around the cross. There were about thirty people present. The pastor was touched to see the young people of various denominations praying together around the cross.
On Saturday there was a day of reflection centred on the call of Peter after the miraculous catch of fish, in the Gospel of Luc (5, 1-11). The short bible introduction was followed by a time of exchange on the responsibility that the Lord’s call to Peter implies. “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” This exchange was very important for the country as it writes a new page of its history following the holding of free and democratic elections. Many challenges have to be taken up in order to help people overcome the misery of which they are victims. This meeting was of primary importance so that the young people could express themselves.
As you go back and forth through the city of Lubumbashi and you see the wealth with which the subsoil abounds (copper), while the population lives in poverty without precedent, it is quite simply nauseating. So many the young people are obliged to work under conditions that are sometimes inhuman, in order to earn a little money. Some work in the uranium mines without any protection whatsoever, and are thus exposed to radiation.
We have been so warmly welcomed in Tanzania. Young people came to the airport with their parish priest. On Thursday evening, we took part in the regular prayer of the medical students. We were introduced to the young people and we were able to explain to them why we were here. The next day, we had a preparation meeting for our day of reflection and prayer.
The day began with a Eucharist celebrated by the auxiliary bishop. He visited Taizé once, accompanied by his parents. Then came the Bible introduction on Luke 5, 1-11. In the small groups the sharing was of a very high quality. I think the young people were very touched by the call to go towards others, and by the questions; among them: giving our lives for others. And it was wonderful to meet young people we had already met in Taizé. Some of them have now finished their studies and work as doctors, nurses… It was an enormous job for them to prepare this visit, especially for those who were preparing for exams at the same time! You have to admire those who, although they were visibly tired, used their remaining energy to ensure that the meeting went off well.
We were deeply grateful for the welcome of the cardinal, and of the Franciscan sisters, one of whom is from Rwanda. She told us about the situation in her country. Obviously, the same question came up everywhere: what is the situation like in the Congo? This was a chance for me to reassure them about what is happening there.
“Here, we continue to create links between people. There will be more Kenyans in Taizé this summer. That will get us going! … We are staying at Umoja, a large working class parish on the outskirts of the city. The city centre of Nairobi, with its futuristic high rise buildings, is surrounded by a ring of working class districts between which are hidden the shantytowns where 2,5 million people are crammed into 5% of the territory. Twice a day the city is in a state of near apoplexy because the traffic on all the main arteries is blocked… So we spend a lot of time in public transport, in traffic jams, amidst the exhaust fumes and the high decibel music pouring out of many of the vehicles… Staying at the presbytery enables us to discover the life of the diocesan priests…”
“Yesterday we had our meeting at Upper Hill, a parish cared for by the Salesiens. 150 young people came, many of them from poorer districts, in particular from Kariobangi, from where we welcomed young people in Taizé these last years. For many of these young people, it was a whole discovery to see this part of Nairobi; they were amazed to see the space, the greenery, the flowers, the church… Two very stylish marriages took place just before our meeting… The contrast between the young people from the shantytowns and the guests in fine clothes and high powered cars summed up dramatically the gulf separating rich and poor, who often live just a few hundred metres from one another.”
“Yesterday, we went to one of the parishes of Kariobangi, just for the prayer. The young people there had helped us very much during the meeting at Upper Hill last Saturday and we wanted some feed back from them. They all said how happy they were to take part,even if not all of them understood the meaning of . Before this visit, we went to see some Anglican priests and found them keen to continue the dialogue and to send some young people.”
Today, we have had a very busy day. In the morning we took part in the Eucharist for Ash Wednesday. To our surprise, the priests asked us to accompany them for the imposition of ashes in certain schools (catholic, official and private schools: a surprise for me. I never saw anything similar in the Congo)... The students were happy to take part, even if not all of them grasped the meaning of what was happening. Afterward, we made a tour with the priests to visit parishes of the deanery. One of the priests is in charge of youth ministry for the archdiocese. We were very well received in the different parishes; but what a contrast between some parishes that are so visibly rich and well situated and other poorer parishes in the depth of the shantytowns.”
Thursday 22: We have just arrived in Kampala after travelling more or less 13 hours by bus. We were well received by the young people who stayed with us until very late.
“The meeting last Sunday at St Augustine Makerere University was really very beautiful! The young people, mostly students, had organized it so well! First of all there was a short song practice, then the prayer very well led by the young people. It is astonishing to see how quickly they learn the songs! Later we had a short bible introduction; once again Luke 5, 1-11. We kept the same text because of the impact it has on the young. They are touched by its call to become responsible in our world that is subject to so many fluctuations. Next, there was time of silence – around 20 minutes – followed by exchange in small groups, and a simple meal. In the afternoon, we reflected on the Letter from Kolkata, with a time in small groups. The second part of the Letter touches the young people very much. Among those who helped us and to whom we want to say a big “thank you” – even if we do not usually quote names – we want to mention Alex, who studies and teaches music, as well as being a member of “Youth Support”; he who was a tremendous help to us. In spite of his exams he gave himself body and soul so that the day would turn out well.”
“Afterwards, we set off for the West, to Mbarara, to the country of the Linyancoles, with a group of people in ministry… with a day in a small community for young people finding their way back into society; they take part in information programs on AIDS for high school students, through music and seminars: “Behaviour Change Program” and “Life in the Spirit”.
We spent a day in a charismatic community. This is an important reality in this country. This particular community has existed for eight years, and they have much creativity and generosity. Next, we visited a community of Poor Clares where we took advantage of the silence!
In Kampala, we continued to make links with people in charge of youth ministry. The Catholic chaplain will be in Taizé for Holy Week.
This morning, one of us went to the one of the two Catholic cathedrals, while the other went to the Anglican cathedral and then the Orthodox… What we have to offer is above all our presence… It is not very impressive and people are a little surprised that we do not have a plan, or a project for development or a foundation, or looking for vocations…
We cannot measure the impact of these moments offered sometimes without being able to explain much more about Taizé… A “ministry of presence” that is only possible because we are setting ourselves to follow in the footsteps of the Risen Christ… Tomorrow we are to meet the Anglican chaplain at Makerere…