Father Vincent Machozi, an Assumptionist Catholic priest who led the fight against the extractive industries and in support of human rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was assassinated on Sunday night, March 20, when members of Congolese military disrupted a peacemaking retreat at a village in Beni and murdered him in a hail of bullets. According to reports, onlookers said Fr. Machozi’s last words were: “Why are you killing me?”
Advent is a time for stories. In my childhood, these weeks were filled with Sunday school pageants, beautifully illustrated children's books, and swapping out Legos for the figurines in my mom’s Nativity collection. My favorite part of the Advent story was always the gathering of unlikely companions — magi, shepherds, angels, and a menagerie of farm animals. This year, I find the Advent story accompanied by another, and it starts like this:
Gold, frankincense, myrrh: precious gifts carried by three magi for the King of kings and Lord of lords. Gold, coltan, diamonds: precious gifts of Creation held in the earth of Congo, taken by the "kings" of powerful nations for the commodities of their people. Coltan alone can be found in the cell phones, hearing aids, and prosthetic devices we use in the West every day. These gifts have become a curse with the massacre of over 5.5 million Congolese, numbers nearly equal to the Holocaust. Yet Congo’s conflict remains mostly silent.
Three elderly Italian nuns murdered in Burundi were laid to rest Sept. 11 in a Xaverian cemetery in the Democratic Republic of Congo amid heightened calls for action about their death.
Sister Lucia Pulici, 75, Sister Olga Raschietti, 82, and Sister Bernadetta Boggian, 79, of the Xaverian Missionary Sisters of Mary were gruesomely murdered Sunday in their convent in the Kamenge area of Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura.
The triple murders shocked Christians across the globe and ignited calls for the protection of sisters worldwide. The nuns were reportedly beaten and killed with a knife. At least one nun was decapitated. There were conflicting reports about whether they had been raped.
Angélique Namaika, a Roman Catholic nun, rides a bicycle on the rutted roads of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s northeastern province of Orientale, which is plagued by rebel violence.
On these same roads, the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Christian rebel group led by Joseph Kony, a self-proclaimed prophet of God, has been killing, abducting, and mutilating women and children.
But none of that has deterred Sister Namaika from helping displaced women learn trades, start small businesses, and go to school.
I can still see in my mind’s eye the vibrantly colored wraps draping the hundreds of displaced women I met at Joborona Camp in Northern Sudan. The stories they told, of blazing huts in Southern Sudan and their men burning alive inside; of their boys forced to fight and kill at ages as young as six or seven; and of their girls taken and forced into sexual slavery seemed impossible to be true. Yet I heard them again and again.
And if these stories weren’t horrific enough, it was the stories the women chose not to share that haunt me the most. Their empty eyes and void expressions told me all I needed to know.
I know empty eyes. I have gazed into them in Bosnia and Croatia. I remember Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. I have witnessed them in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — where it is believed that one million girls and women have stories to tell of the gender-based violence they have endured. I have been confronted by the eyes of our sisters from Darfur, who risk their dignity, their bodies, and in some cases their very lives by leaving their refugee camps to collect firewood for their small cooking stoves (those who are lucky enough to have one). It is in the bush, often, that they are victims of sexual and gender-based violence. These are the countless women who risk being raped so their children can eat.
March 8 was designated as International Women’s Day by the United Nations in 1975. While the world has seen significant progress in rights and empowerment for women and girls, sexual and gender-based violence still touches every part of the globe and is tragically widespread in some areas. Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo face shockingly high rates of rape, including reports of mass rapes by soldiers, especially in the conflict-ridden province of Kivu. One Christian hospital, operated by the Free Methodist Church in the Nundu mission, works to treat injured women and heal psychological trauma.
Grace (not her real name) had spent the day working in the fields near her home in Kivu Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The 42-year-old mother was walking home with her two daughters, ages 20 and 16, when they were stopped by a group of 15 uniformed men. All three of the women were raped by the men and left with horrible injuries. They were brought to the Nundu Hospital, operated by the Free Methodist Church, where they received medical and psychological treatment for four weeks.
The Nundu Hospital identified 1754 survivors of sexual violence in 2012, and all but 98 of those were women or girls, according to Dr. Lubunga Eoba Samy, medical coordinator for the Free Methodist Church and coordinator of the hospital’s Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Project. This project aims to reduce the occurrence of sexual violence by promoting human rights, raising awareness and strengthening the capacity of community-based organizations to address the issue. It also includes training of local authorities and improving coordination among local non-governmental organizations.