A third Roman Catholic priest has been shot dead in the Democratic Republic of Congo as tribal violence continues escalating in the country, with a bishop crying out that the people have been “abandoned by everyone.”
Agenzia Fides reported that Fr. Étienne Sengiyumva, parish priest of Kitchanga, was murdered on Sunday, not long after celebrating mass.
“Around 3 p.m., after celebrating mass in Kyahemba, a circumscription of his parish, Fr. Étienne had gathered his collaborators, when an armed man, accompanied by other people, entered the meeting room and killed the priest,” said Mgr. Théophile Kaboy Ruboneka, bishop of Goma, capital of North Kivu.
Mgr. Louis de Gonzague Nzabanita Sebakara, vicar general of Goma, said the Maï-Maï Nyatura militant group is behind the killing, though Ruboneka told Fides that “it is difficult to say who was responsible of this terrible act.”
“There are different armed groups in our region, at least 15, which cannot be dismantled despite the presence of the regular army and the Blue Helmets of MONUSCO,” he added, referring to the United Nations Mission in the DRC.
The Goma bishop said that three priests have now been killed in the area, expressing his frustrations that investigations into the attackers come up empty-handed.
“On our behalf, we will do everything to identify Fr. Étienne’s murderers. In these cases, the witnesses fear for their lives and that of their loved ones and hardly offer useful information,” he said.
Ruboneka pointed out that so many armed groups are battling one another in the region that it’s difficult to discern who is carrying out the killings.
“Here in North Kivu we live in total chaos. The situation in my diocese of Goma, like that of Butembo-Beni, is incredible. We are completely abandoned by everyone; we live only thanks to Providence. I ask the faithful of the universal Church to pray for our region so that they can rediscover peace,” he pleaded.
Another priest, Father Celestin Nagango, was kidnapped from his church in eastern Congo by armed men earlier this month.
The National Episcopal Conference of Congo said last week that the unknown assailants are asking a very high sum for the clergyman.
“His kidnappers have contacted the St. Paul of Karambi parish to demand $500,000 in ransom for his release,” the church officials explained.
AFP added that two Catholic priests, the Rev. Charles Kapasa and the Rev. Jean Pierre Akilimali, who were both kidnapped from the Parish of Notre Dame in the Butembo-Beni Diocese in July 2016, haven’t been seen since.
Still missing are three other priests from the Assumptionist Order, who were taken in October 2012.
Catholic relief groups, such as Caritas Congo, have warned that a “truly disastrous humanitarian emergency” is unfolding, especially in the Kasai region of the country.
Jean-Pierre Pokavu of Caritas Congo said back in February that as many as 3 million people are in urgent need of help, with stories emerging of a number of Christians whose family members have been murdered.
Believers have been targeted and killed when caught up in the web of ethnic and political violence, stemming largely from the war between the government of President Joseph Kabila and opposition forces.
The conflict has left entire villages burned down, with homes, hospitals and schools destroyed as well.