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Praying with refugees in Congo: reconciliation brings hope
01 November 2013

JRS staff member, Consolata, receives appreciation from IDPs near Mweso, DRC (Peter Balleis/Jesuit Refugee Service).
If I were to meet the slave-traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands.
Bujumbura, 1 November 2013 – "I grew up hating. I believed the others were bad people. They were not like us", said Léonce*, a Burundian refugee, who spoke with honesty about his experience of prejudice.

Growing up with prejudices is something most of us can identify with. Some prejudices last our entire lives while others develop later. Parting with them is often harder than we think.

Reconciliation requires sacrifice. It means stepping out of your comfort zone, confronting your prejudices, and admitting your own transgressions. Only then can we recognise the dignity of others.

Ninety-nine years ago today, Pope Benedict XV wrote in his first encyclical, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum, "… day by day the earth is drenched with newly-shed blood. Who would imagine as we see them thus filled with hatred of one another, that they are all of one common stock, all of the same nature, all members of the same human society?"

Violence, often fuelled by ethnic tensions, has touched the lives of almost everyone in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

At a vigil for peace in Syria last month, Pope Francis reminded us that "to be human means to care for one another…violence is not answered with violence; death is not answered with the language of death".

Jesuit Refugee Service staff in the country are powerful examples of those who have chosen peace over violence.

Masumbuko*, a JRS driver in the North Kivu province, lost his sister in an incursion last week. He is already back at work.

Earlier this year, JRS staff Consolata and Lwanzo were hijacked by an armed group who stole their vehicle. Despite this traumatic experience, they continue to work in service for those who suffer around them.

Antoinette*, another JRS team member, lives a day's journey from her husband and children whom she sees once a month. Testing roads, a wearisome work environment, long hours and security risks are all sacrifices she makes in pursuit of peace.

The commitment of these staff members is a testament to their faith in the future of their country. There is a collective desire to heal the wounds of the past and move forward together.

Reconciliation, like faith, must be an active, dynamic process. Léonce now works in JRS community projects alongside those he once despised and distrusted.

"These are now my brothers and sisters. They give me hope", he said.

*This name has been changed for reasons of security

Your Reflections
By opening ourselves to dialogue and forgiveness we can feel vulnerable. As we help others to do so, let us reflect on our own failings and ask for the courage and humility to overcome them.

In our prayers for peace, Pope Francis urges us to reflect on how: "in the silence of the Cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue and peace is spoken".

St Josephine Bakhita of Sudan, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Sudan, gives us an example of the challenge of reconciliation and forgiveness:

"If I were to meet the slave-traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands".

Her strength can inspire us to rebuild harmony among ourselves. Moved by the sorrow of others, we can open our hearts and minds to the promise of new encounters.

Pádraic MacOireachtaigh, JRS Great Lakes Africa Advocacy and Communications Officer