AFRICA/DR CONGO - President of the Bishops' Conference: “Here too, families are in crisis and children are left to their fate as 'street children'”

Friday, 24 November 2023 local churches   bishops   street children   family  

Kinshasa (Agenzia Fides) - "2023 was a very intense year for the Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo," says the President of the Congolese Episcopal Conference and Archbishop of Kisangan, Marcel Utembi Tapa. "In 2023 there were for the Church at the national level in the Democratic Republic of Congo and as a world church two important events: the Synod of Bishops on Synodality at the same time as the Synod in October, the Ad Limina visit. We Bishops of the Democratic Republic of Congo gathered to pray at St. Peter's Tomb and had the opportunity to meet with the heads of the dicasteries of the Holy See," emphasized the President of the Congolese Episcopal Conference in an interview with Fides.

2023 was a special year for the Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo with the Pope's visit and the Eucharistic Congress.
Can you describe these events for us? At the national level, the two most important events were the visit of Pope Francis to the DRC from January 31st to February 3rd, while in June in Lubumbashi we celebrated the Third National Eucharistic Congress on the theme "Eucharist and Family". The Congress brought together representatives of the 48 dioceses of the Church as the Family of God in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The program included intense moments of prayer and catechesis organized by the bishops around the theme of the Eucharist, the source, center and summit of Christian life. A workshop was also organized with the participation of theologians, which aroused the interest of many participants. At the end of this scientific work, a document was created on the theology, spirituality and action of the Eucharist and the family. At the end of the National Eucharistic Congress, the bishops addressed the faithful with a pastoral letter asking them not to see the Congress as something of the past, but as the beginning of a path of sanctification. We must therefore take advantage of everything we learned during our exchange of opinions and experiences in Lubumbashi. The Synodal Assembly for Africa, held March 2-6 in Ethiopia, affirmed that "the Catholic Church in Africa has grown as a family of God".
How do you experience this reality in the DRC?
The family is a true domestic church and should live out this calling to the fullest. Parents have an essential role: they must introduce their children to prayer and the sacraments; they must educate them to give due place to the Word of God, which nourishes our faith and prepares our hearts to receive the Eucharist. Unfortunately, the family finds itself in a time of turbulence and crisis: divorce, a certain aversion to the sacrament of marriage and separation of parents often lead to the children being left to their sad fate as street children. On the other hand, the world of the Internet offers children values and connections that question parental authority. This liturgical, spiritual, pastoral and scientific meeting should, in our understanding, serve at the same time to restructure things, to return to common sense and to reassess the family from the perspective of Christ.
You mentioned the street children. What can you tell us about this sad reality?
We have the phenomenon that children who are victims of “family breakdown” unfortunately often end up on the streets. Some parents who we can call "irresponsible" abandon their children. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon phenomenon and can be observed especially in urban environments. In addition to the irresponsibility of parents, this sad reality is also due to widespread poverty. There are parents who not only do not have the means to meet the needs of their children, but also to support themselves. Added to this are the conflicts that plague our country, especially in the east, and destabilize the family structure of the local population. As a result of these conflicts, many children have lost both parents, have no one to support them and suddenly find themselves on the streets. And finally, there are superstitions, especially towards children and young people with behavioral or psychological problems. When their parents are unable to understand these problems, they attribute them to witchcraft, the children are called "witch children". Their fate is to be thrown out of the house. This phenomenon is a major challenge for the Church of God family in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As pastors, we cannot remain indifferent and insensitive to the suffering of these children. We often hold catechesis to denounce this kind of behavior and tell parents that they are responsible for their children.
What is the church doing for these children?
There are initiatives from individual dioceses and parishes that look after abandoned children. Religious communities are very involved in this type of pastoral and apostolate, setting up centers for the rehabilitation of abandoned children. We have also set up orphanages in several dioceses. For example, in the Archdiocese of Kisangani entrusted to me, there is an initiative of the Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Dehonians) who have evangelized our region. The Dehonians have set up a number of reception centers for street children. The “Bakhita” center takes care of abandoned girls and young women and provides them with training and education to facilitate their integration into society; the “San Lorenzo” center welcomes boys and young men and finally there is a center for the youngest children. There are also a number of women's orders that look after abandoned children and young people, such as the Ursulines, who run an orphanage in which children abandoned by their parents are taken in. Of course, similar initiatives also exist in many other Congolese dioceses. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 24/11/2023)