Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Horror of Child Warriors in the Congo

In the mineral-rich Congo region of Africa, children as young as ten years old have been kidnapped, tortured, raped, drugged and forced into a senseless ethnic war for years. In recent weeks, hundreds of these children have returned to their homes broken and brainwashed, often rejected by their own families.

Following the atrocities in Rwanda, those who took part in the slaughter sought refuge in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The methods of murder which left a world stunned in Rwanda were evident just months ago as reported in a Catholic News Service story released in December 2008:

Sister Marie-Bernard told Catholic News Service Dec. 29 that 50 bodies were found in the courtyard of a Catholic church in Doruma Christmas morning.

The Lord's Resistance Army, a Ugandan rebel group, has been blamed for the church massacre as well as continued tensions in northeastern Congo. In early December, Ugandan, Congolese and southern Sudanese forces launched an offensive on the group.

Sister Marie-Bernard said the local justice and peace commission currently is taking scores of people to the local hospital.

"There are many people who were wounded by machete in the attacks; several people suffered amputations. The priority of the justice and peace workers is to ensure that these people now receive medical attention," she said.

"The situation in the Doruma and Faradje region grew very violent" in late December and "several civilians were killed in surrounding villages during these days -- around 200 bodies were found," she said.

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo, known as MONUC, deplored the violence in the region. MONUC called on the Congolese army to intervene in a way that "respects humanitarian law and with care to avoid reprisals against the civilian population."

Caritas Congo reported Dec. 29 that during the Christmastime violence 20 children were abducted as child soldiers for the Lord's Resistance Army. Caritas Congo is the local affiliate of the international Catholic umbrella group Caritas Internationalis.

Caritas said 400 people, including two priests, were killed in the violence.

A Catholic church in Duru was burned to the ground and 6,500 people took refuge in another Catholic church in the Doruma region, Caritas said.

Generations of DR Congonese dare not imagine a life without violence and suffering. The nation should be a land of 'milk and honey' due to the natural resources yet malnutrition, murder, rape and vast poverty have been a fact of life for so many. Caritas Internationalis is among several Catholic agencies providing aid to the area and UNICEF has pleaded to have all child soldiers released.


What has the world done for the least of these? Obviously not enough. To learn more on what you can do to help, follow the links to Catholic Relief Services in DR of Congo and Caritas Internationalis.

African Catholics like Martin Mande are making a difference in the lives of the former child soldiers and their families. Mr. Mande is a member of the Xaveri Movement in Africa, named after St. Francis Xavier and has devoted his life to the ministry of helping children in the region where he serves as Pastoral Associate in his parish. As a refugee and migrant activist, Mr. Mande is one face among many who knows the difficulties faced by the former child soldiers. Please keep the children of the DR of Congo and those who help them in your prayers. Support these groups financially as you are able and listen to God's call - perhaps you are being called to a mission to help the Congonese or another needy population.

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