Meeting with Vivat

JPIC: The creation of Vivat International in the D. R. Congo. Annie, a temporary professed, is going to share with us my experience within the organism: VIVAT.

At the beginning of October 2011, I was a member of the preparatory commit¬tee for the International VIVAT workshop to be held in Kinshasa, the first of its kind in Francophone Africa. It was also note¬worthy for the fact of its being held at a significant time for the Churches of Africa as a whole, that is, two years after the second special Assembly for Africa. The theme for that assembly still speaks to us: "A Church in Africa at the service of reconciliation, of justice and of peace; You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world. (Mt 5:13-14)", and particularly to the Democratic Republic of the Congo during an electoral period. 

We are honoured by the fact that our country was chosen. 
 
The workshop itself was held from the 23 to the 29 October 2011 at the "Paix sur Terre" spiritual centre at Mbiti, Kinshasa, capital of the DR Congo. The delegates were from the Society of the Divine Word, the Spiritans, Sisters of the Holy Spirit, the Combonians (men and women), the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the Little Sisters of the Assumption (Lurdes Mendes Pereira and myself), and Lay associates who included lawyers and human rights activists. I would like to highlight the presence of members of the (VIVAT) executive committee from New York and from their Coordination in Rome; of two Provincials, of delegates from France, the Cameroon, Central African Republic, Mozambique and the different provinces of Congo-Kinshasa. 
Our massive presence, coming from such different places and encouraged by our various Congregations, is an extension of what is being done at international level and bears witness to our concern for Human development, for Justice Peace and the Integrity of Creation. It was a favourable time for our Congregations which are working in this country that is ravaged by long years of war, with almost 3 million dead, without counting the victims of violence and torture. 
The proceedings of the VIVAT International Congo workshop were inaugurated by a speech, followed by the presentation of the members who expressed their expectations for the meeting, and then the presentation of the aims and objectives of the workshop. 
 
Throughout this workshop, various themes were dealt with: 
A presentation of Vivat International, its organisation, its aim and its objectives 
Justice, peace and integrity of creation in the Bible 
Introduction to the UN – Non-Governmental Organisations at the UN – Human Rights 
VIVAT, a history of lobbying 
JPIC in Church documents 
CEDAW / UPR / AMR: Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women / The Universal Periodic Review / The Annual Ministerial Review 
Develop a spirituality of lobbying. To make his talk more specific, the speaker presented four cases of lobbying to illustrate how VIVAT International works with the UN and the members of local communities. 
The Catholic Church in the DRC at the service of peace, justice and integrity of creation. Its role and perspectives presented by Fr Alexis Asani Ndalimbuzi, Consultant to the Justice and Peace Commission of the CENCO (National Episcopal Conference of the Congo). 
A time of JPIC sharing: the coordinators of the Congregations presented a report on the JPIC Vision/Mission of their Con-gregation, which was followed by a discussion. 
Identification of situations: this work was done in four sub-groups that were constituted to reflect on the question: "What, in our opinion, are the worrying situations in the domain of JPIC in the DRC?" At the end of this work there was a whole list of unspeakable events that are being experienced by the Congolese people; among them we picked out two cases about which we decided to lobby at the UN. They are: 
1. Respect for Human Rights (the situation of women who were raped, and the situation in prisons) 
2. Protection of the environment 
 
There was also a third one on which we committed ourselves to act at local level: civic education in our parishes and in the domains where we carry out our apostolate, because we have realised that ignorance of the culture of citizenship on the greater part of the population does not favour the emergence of a democratic culture based on values. Nor does it enable the citizens to exercise in an effective way their rights to participate in the political choices that will give them the possibility of changing their living conditions – the fruit of social peace. 
 
Testimonies concerning some cases of violence and injustice in the DRC, backed up by some appalling pictures; they concerned: 
 
1. The rebellion of 1964 to 1967; the plundering of Kananga in 1992; the people of Katanga who were forced back there; the extermination of about 3,000 Hutus at Kisangani; pictures of an atrocity in the east of the Congo (people being burned).
 
2. Testimonies on situation of insecurity in the Diocese of Butembo-Beni in the east of the country (large-scale killing and rape of women).
3. Testimonies concerning the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army), a group of Ugandan rebels who are in the east of the country. As they move around they take young girls who accompany them, carrying their possessions; they rape the girls and do what they want with them. The girls’ parents do not know where they have gone; sometimes they are freed after four or five months: they return home with infections, their lips cut and sometimes pregnant. 
4. Testimonies on the ministry to refugees in Tanzania, specifically in the camp for Burundian refugees at Mtabila where there are 38,000 refugees and the camp for Congolese refugees at Nyarubusa with 62,000 refugees, 10,000 of whom are Catholic Christians. 
 
What astonishes us is that all those people who carry out these massacres are never arrested. The government or nobody else does anything about it. And a question keeps coming to our mind, that of knowing whether we are persons or animals that we are treated in that way? You have to be very STRONG to look at those pictures to the end. Those abandoned people, living without any protection!!! It is outrageous. 
 
One of our aims was to set up the Vivat Congo committee. On the final day, each congregation delegated a person to be a member of the committee. Our six institutes have in common an official organ to work together for justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Instead of our having to wage this struggle alone, this national or pan-African body will ensure a collective and common commitment. We recall in passing the African proverb: "The face is not washed by just one finger!" The platform of local Congregations wishes, in the spirit and philosophy of Vivat, to provide lobbying and information as a force of protest and peaceful challenge with a view to restoring just personal relations among people and with suffering creation. I am a member of this committee, which meets each month. We have drawn up a Final Declaration for the creation of Vivat International DR Congo, and also a letter addressed to our superiors seeking support for the latter. 
 
This Vivat International/DR Congo workshop in Kinshasa enabled us to share our experiences and to reflect on the situations that are weighing down the people and damaging their environment. The attacks on human dignity and the violence inflicted on the environment challenge our religious commitment in the service of humanity. 
 
There is good reason to note that these talks gave rise to several debates, concerns and worries. Some of these found a response, others did not. There was very active participation, the atmosphere was very agreeable and friendly which meant that despite the harsh things that had really affected us, we were more relaxed and were constantly smiling. The workshop closed with the beautiful Eucharistic celebration, accompanied by the blessing and missioning of the committee members. 
 
For the moment, we have decided to stop our Civic education programme. We wish to join the programme organised by the Archdiocese. This programme consists in raising the awareness of Christians and of the population in general with regard to the practice of the culture of active non-violence. This is because we have had presidential and legislative elections which took place in very bad conditions. The Church, for its part, fulfilled its mission of being a sentinel for truth and never ceased denouncing all that might endanger the building of a democratic State. That is why it organised training sessions, in all the parishes, recommending the entire Congolese people not to give way to pessimism, nor to despair, nor violence, nor tribalism nor xenophobia but to unite around Christian and democratic values of justice and truth, to grow in the awareness of the national unity and their sovereign power so as to exercise it with vigilance and in a legal way. I think that we will be resuming our activities in the coming months. 
 
It was a joy for me to participate in this workshop and to open up to other realities; it was also a joy to journey with others in this work for the people who are continually hoping for Peace and Justice. I would also say that the work of Justice and Peace is immense when we see the challenges that have to be taken up. The building of the culture of JPIC is a great project of God that is beyond us and which demands ongoing conversion of each one of us. Let us ask the Lord for the grace to be, daily, those who build peace and justice in ourselves and around us so that his REIGN may come. 
 
Annie, temporary professed, Little Sisters of the Assumption
 
Kinshasa, 05 February, 2012 
 
27/03/2012
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