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DR Congo: Church prays for peace in country’s East

Catholics throughout the Democratic Republic of Congo are offering prayers for peace in the eastern part of the country, which has born the brunt of a deadly insurgency.

Around 6 million civilians have lost their lives over the past 30 years in an unending cycle of violence at the hands of rebel and terrorist groups.

In response to the unrest, every Mass in the DRC will conclude with a prayer for peace, as of Sunday, February 18.

The initiative is spearheaded by the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo, and demonstrates the Catholic Bishops’ commitment to peace.

Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo, the Archbishop of Kinshasa, will celebrate Mass on Saturday, February 24, in the capital city’s Cathedral of Our Lady of Congo, to pray for “peace and tranquility” in the Great Lakes region.

During the Mass, Cardinal Ambongo will pray that God might comfort all Congolese who have become “victims of atrocities” and have been “tormented for several decades by insecurity that has claimed millions of lives.

‘Powder keg’ of Goma

The area around Goma, the capital of North Kivu Province, has seen a deadly spike in conflict between armed groups, including the March 23 Movement (M23).

Goma sits near the border with Rwanda, and high volumes of trade cross the frontier through the Rwandan city of Gisenyi.

DR Congo accuses the Rwandan government of supporting the M23 rebel group, but Rwanda has not responded to the allegations.

“Following the M23 war, the city of Goma has become excessively militarized, with the presence of armed groups known as ‘wazalendo’,” according to the city’s Bishop Willy Ngumbi Ngengele. “This makes Goma a powder keg that could explode into a civil war at any moment, if we are not careful.”

Risk of humanitarian disaster

Goma, a city of nearly two million inhabitants, also hosts around 850,000 people displaced due to years of conflict.

Over the past two years, many have sought refuge in seven camps set up by the Congolese government around the city.

Bishop Ngumbi says the internally displaced person (IDPs) have become “hostages of the M23 war, whose support by Rwanda is documented by several NGO reports and other United Nations agencies.”

As the city enters Lent, he says, Goma has been “completely suffocated since the M23 troops advanced into the city of Sake, 30 km west of Goma.”

Sake holds a strategic position and lies at the crossroads of three major economic routes. M23’s advances in the area are endangering the flow of supplies.

Now, warns Bishop Ngumbi, “there is a real risk that famine will break out in Goma and that people start to die from lack of food.”

He notes that M23 could close all supply routes, saying the move would leave people to die of hunger.

“We watch helplessly,” said the Bishop of Goma, “as a humanitarian disaster unfolds.”

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