DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Priest and nun shot dead as anti-Church violence worsens
By John Pontifex
Daughters of the Resurrection Sisters in the Democratic Republic of Congo
The Catholic Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo is in shock after the brutal killing of a priest and a nun in two separate attacks.
Father Daniel Cizimya Nakamaga, 51, was shot in the head in the early hours of Sunday, 6th December when gunmen broke into the presbytery of Kabare, 15 kilometres outside the city of Bukavu, in the east of the country.
Less than 48 hours later, again just north of Bukavu, attackers struck at a Trappist monastery, killing Sister Denise Kahambu.
A third person died when police trying to catch the killers opened fire on a car containing three potential suspects who were driving through the area late at night.
The killings bring to a head a growing wave of violence and tension in the region, directed – at least in part – at Christians.
In a message received by Aid to the Church in Need, Monsignor Pierre Bulambo, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Bukavu, said: “The archdiocese has fallen victim to an act of barbarism.”
He added: “The people have been traumatised and are very afraid. The Congolese are fed up of crying and dying.”
Describing the killing of Father Cizimya, the vicar general went on to describe how armed men stormed the presbytery in Kabare, eventually smashing a window to get inside.
The attackers made for Father Cizimya’s room. When he tried to close the door to keep them out, they fired two shots at his head, killing him instantly.
Monsignor Bulambo added: “We admire the bravery and compassion of the people of Kabare in support of their departed priest. How they have responded is an example to everyone.”
In a report sent to Aid to the Church in Need, Father Bunyakiri Crispin, rector of St Pius X Seminary in Murhesa, 25 kilometres outside Bukavu, described responding to an emergency cry for help from the nearby Trappist monastery, where Sister Denise had just been shot.
He reported that witnesses described how Sister Denise, who was guest mistress at the monastery, was suddenly confronted by three strangers. She tried to escape but was shot dead.
Father Crispin said that her body was discovered “lying in a pool of blood”.
He added: “A woman who was one of the guests said she heard shouting and then saw an armed man running towards her but she shut herself in her room.”
Another woman, who works at the monastery, described how the attackers demanded money from her. When she refused the attacker fired a gun at her but missed.
The rest of the nuns – who eventually phoned Father Crispin for help – took shelter in the monastery dormitory, sitting on the floor in case shots were fired through the windows.
Father Crispin added: “The whole time, the Sisters prayed the rosary and sang Psalm 129, the De Profundis, for Sister Denise and the whole community.
Monsignor Bulambo reported that police were continuing their inquiries but added that two of the suspects in the car that came under police fire had been able to escape. He went on to hint at possible collusion between security staff officials and the attackers.
Monsignor Bulambo said that the incidents were the latest in a series of attacks on Church communities in the Bukavu area, while Father Crispin stated that this was the fourth time the Trappist nuns had been attacked since 1996.
Describing the Church as “in the eye of the storm”, Monsignor Bulambo recalled that two months ago two priests in Ciherano were “imprisoned like rats” by attackers who set fire to their presbytery.
A few days later, a group of students were robbed. At about the same time a hospital in Mukongola was burgled.
Aid to the Church in Need, which last year gave £2 million to help persecuted and other suffering Christians in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has reacted with deep concern to the killings, which come shortly after a project assessment trip to the region.
The charity gives major support to the Bukavu-based Daughters of the Resurrection, a religious order co-founded by Aid to the Church in Need’s founder, Father Werenfried van Straaten. The Daughters’ Mother House is located only three kilometres away from the Trappist Monastery.