They chose to stay

For quite some time now, our Brothers in Zaire have lived in the face of grave danger. In 1991, for example, they suffered through the first plunderings of that country, plunderings which had a special impact on the capital city of Kinshasa. At that time embassies advised all foreigners to leave Zaire without delay; they offered assistance to those who asked to be evacuated immediately. The members of some religious congregations, heeding the embassies warnings, decided to evacuate. Inspite of the obvious risks involved, our missionary brothers chose to stay.

Following the terrifying salughter that took place in Rwanda in 1994, tension and insecurity continued to grow in the region. In light of this development, we evacuated our novices from Nyangezi, relocating them to Bangui in the Republic of Central Africa. Subsequent instability on that part of the African continent, however, led us to carry out a second evacuation of the novices from Bangui to ()bala in Cameroon.

The «Masisi War», in 1996, between the bahunde and the bahutu, brought tremendous suffering to the families of some of our Zairean Brothers. It also made it almost impossible for our school in Bobandana to continue functioning. In the face of all these difficulties, our Brothers in that area chose to stay and help the displaced families of the bahunde.

By the end of October, a new armed conflict flared up in eastern Zairebringing to the Great Lakes region increased instability and violence. As a consequence, three Brothers were forced to leave Zaire quickly; a short time later two additional Brothers had to be evacuated to Brazzaville. The lives of these five men were in serious jeapardy due to acombinaition of their ethnic origin and the region in which they were living. As the situation deteriorated, we had come to realized that we could no longer provide them with the protection they required and evacuated them.

The regions of North and South Kivu, shortly thereafter, came into a state of war. Our Brothers in Goma, Bukavu, Nyangezi, Kindu, and Kinsangani began to suffer the consequences of this development. All of these Brothers had been invited to make a discernment to consider the option of leaving Zaire or, at least, to withdraw from the zones of conflict. They chose to stay.

I realized also, though, that the Brothers of the community in Bugobe needed some special attention and help. Beginning in July 1995 and continuing during the ensuing months, the refugees in that area passed through a series of dramatic crises. In my opinion, they have been and continue to be the victims of the policies of various local and international powers who are working to further their own interests in the area. The final costs of these policies for the refugees in suffering and human life is a painful reality to contemplate. What to do with our Brothers in these circumstances? Still having an option to leave the camp, they chose to stay inspite of all the consequences they knew could come about as a result of their decision. They loved the people they served and lived in solidarity with them. Their zeal to share in the plight of the men and women of the camps outweighted their prudent desire to move to a safer place.

In recent weeks I have received an enormous number of letters of sympathy for the loss of our four Brothers. Two of them brought to mind a quote from Archbishop Oscar Romero. In referring to the assasination of priests and men and women religious when the violence in El Salvador was at its peak, he said: «At a time when so many simple people are being slaughtered, it would be no good news at all if no members of the clergy and religious life shared their plight.»

Let us pray with and to our Brothers Servando, Miguel Angel, Fernando, and Julio; yes, let us pray that their lives and their deaths be the means through with greater justice and a lasting peace may come to the people and that part of the African continent that they served so well. In introducing this issue of FMS Message – which renders heartfelt tribute to the Marist community of Bugobe, to Archbishop Christopher of Bukavu, to Fathers Constantine and Andrew, and to the Sisters of St. Vincent Laurentia, Coletter, and Josephine assassinated recently in Goma-permit me to reflect for a moment on these two questions.

Br. Benito Arbués
Former Superior General