Missioners from All Saints Church visit Eastern Congo
Submitted by Peter Daino
Papy Amani, Dr. Dale Avers, and I were the team sent by All Saints Church on a mission to Eastern Congo, from Jan. 11 to 27.
The purpose of our trip was to build a bridge between the Diocese of Syracuse, or at least the parish of All Saints, and Eastern Congo. Folks fleeing Eastern Congo constitute the largest population of refugees accepted into the USA last year. In fact, in Syracuse there is a Congolese Association of Onondaga County with more than a thousand members. We went in particular to visit two projects: a nutrition initiative for children and a women-empowerment project; these had been brought to our attention by members of our parish.
An estimated five to six million people were killed in 30 years of civil war in that region. This was much more than a number to Papy Amani and Eric Deklerk, a Congolese Canadian friend who joined us. For Papy and Eric going back to the place they had fled, back to the place where so many of their friends and relatives had been murdered, was emotionally wrenching and required a deep Christian faith. For them the teaching of Jesus — first be reconciled, first forgive, then offer your gift — was indeed a challenge.
Yet, wherever we went, Papy and Eric met everyone with a forgiving heart. Papy and Eric communicated so much love, and the joy was evident in the people who felt that love! I know the Holy Spirit was in all this, or maybe Our Lady.
Where we were in Eastern Congo was near Kibeho Rwanda, the place where Our Lady had appeared as a Young African Mother to an intertribal youth group of Hutu and Tutsi. In the apparition Mary was crushing the head of a serpent with her bare foot. She told those young Africans to pray for the end of tribal strife, the end of war, the end of hunger and suffering; and to work at building peace on earth. Papy and many of our Congolese members pray daily to Lady Kibeho. (Stories about Mary’s appearances in Kibeho and their significance were approved as worthy of belief by the Vatican in 2001, according to Catholic News Service.)
At All Saints Church we serve more than 200 Congolese who find themselves “downstream” in Syracuse. Our pastor, Father Fred Daley, told us that the purpose of our mission to Congo was to go “upstream.” It struck me that the first time I ever heard that expression was during my 17 years in Kenya. Refugees fleeing the genocide in Rwanda told us that other refugees (in the Ugandan camps) had formed an army to go upstream to stop the slaughter of Tutsis. The reason: They were seeing their dead tribesmen floating down the river from the killing fields of Rwanda.
We were not an army but we were armed with the spiritual armor Saint Paul describes — the shield of faith, the breastplate of love. For five days we were in Bukavu, a city of half a million people, visiting Kesho Kongo (Future Congo). It is the nutrition project started by Dr. Adolphe Nyakasane in Bukavu; it makes enhanced protein biscuits.
At several nutrition centers we gave out the biscuits, with a high-protein paste made of cowpea-leaf extract. The ask of Kesho Kongo is for $22,000 to assist women farmers to harvest and process significantly more cowpea plants. These funds will triple the number of children assisted, so annually 75,000 children will overcome malnutrition and stay healthy as they grow up.
Then for eight days we were in Uvira, a city of 180,000 people, visiting Human Solidarity of Congo. Emmanuel Maneno, the local head of Human Solidarity, brought us to several Women Training Centers where women are learning literacy and tailoring. The women also participate in a loan program to help them create small businesses. Thanks to literacy, job skills, and loans, hundreds of poor women are making their families self-reliant regarding food, preventing their children from falling into malnutrition.
The ask of Human Solidarity is for $11,000. The ask of Kesho Kongo for $22,000 and of Human Solidarity for $11,000 comes to $33,000. It is an appeal to people of goodwill. Of course, the people they are most familiar with are the people of the Syracuse Diocese.
We know it will take time, maybe this whole year, to reach that amount, but the people of All Saints on Feb. 15 and 16 gave the highest collection in the history of the parish — $15,000! One family alone donated $5,000! We are committed to the nutrition of children, and the empowerment of mothers!
We are reaching out to various other people for the balance of the requested money. Two weekends ago, $3,500 came in here at All Saints; so adding this to the $15,000 we now have $18,500. We are hoping others of goodwill who read this article might also help.
That’s our Congo mission experience. But, I want to challenge each and every one of you in the diocese — by virtue of your baptism, you are a missionary! So, from one to another, let me share this advice. Not my advice, but the advice of the founder of the Marianists. He would take the new missionaries out to the novitiate garden and stop at the statue of Mary, with her foot crushing the head of a serpent. And he spoke to the snake: “You evil, afflicting the world, You — poverty, war, sickness, hunger, oppression; Listen You! Your time is up!”
Then turning to the new missionaries the old man would say: “You’ve asked me which is more important the head or the heart, thoughts or feelings, in measuring your progress toward God. I don’t know. But here is my advice. PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR FEET! Where your feet take you every day, my dear missionaries, will be a measure of your progress toward God.” Then tapping Mary’s snake-crushing foot, he would say, “BE FIERCE AS A MOTHER! Look at this mother’s bare foot pressing down on the head of a poisonous snake, to save her children. You are now That Foot! BE THAT FOOT! BE FIERCE AS A MOTHER!”
Most of the people we saw working to rebuild Congo were mothers. And these women are fierce, fierce in the love they have for their children.
To contribute toward these efforts, send a check made out to All Saints Parish, 1340 Lancaster Ave., Syracuse, N.Y. 13210;