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from issue no. 03 - 2009

The bishops of Bukavu

Munzihirwa assassinated, Kataliko exiled, Mbogha suffering a stroke on the day of his inauguration. The story of the last three pastors of the Archdiocese of Bukavu

by Davide Malacaria

The Cathedral of Bukavu. In the foreground, the tomb of Archbishop Christophe Munzihirwa [© Reuters/Contrasto]

The Cathedral of Bukavu. In the foreground, the tomb of Archbishop Christophe Munzihirwa [© Reuters/Contrasto]

There is a place in Bukavu freighted with memories. It lies in front of the Cathedral, but discreetly, a little to the side. There, side by side, lie the tombs of the last three archbishops of Bukavu. A place of silent and constant pilgrimage for the faithful of the city. “I believe that there is no other diocese in Africa and perhaps in the world that has had four successive bishops in twelve years”, remarks Don Justin Nkunzi, head of the Justice and Peace Commission of Bukavu, referring to the tribute the archdiocese has had to pay to the war. In fact, the predecessors of the current archbishop had very singular stories, worth the telling, at least in brief.
In October 1996, the tension was extreme, says Father Sebastian Amato, then bursar of the diocese of Bukavu. Monsignor Christophe Munzihirwa tried in every way to soothe hearts, calm things down, get threatened people out of danger, as well as publicly denouncing the course of events that was plunging the Congo into a war that promised to be bloody. There was a carpet bombing that day, continued into the night. And despite that Monsignor did not rest. Among other things, he had managed to get to safety the Tutsi nuns that over-excitation of minds had put in danger. On the morning of 29 October the Rwandans took Bukavu. Monsignor Munzihirwa was as usual in the streets, comforting his flock. His car was stopped at a roadblock and he got out, crucifix in hand. The soldiers hesitated. Eyewitnesses reported that some of them spoke into a walkie-talkie, as if asking for instructions. Then the bishop was made to approach a gate, ordered to kneel and killed with a shot to the head. The gate is still there, at a corner of the square which has been renamed Munzihirwa Square, with a fine photo of Monsignor smiling happily.
In May 1997, Emmanuel Kataliko was appointed to the post of archbishop of Bukavu. He got there when the war was raging. Monsignor made himself loud to try to get heard over the noise of weapons, to let the world know of the atrocities that were destroying his people. In particular, his letters are substantiated accusations of the powers of the world, pleas for help, exhortations to his flock to pray to Jesus, to trust in Him. One of the constant themes of his writings is a denunciation of the ideological exploitation of the Rwandan genocide to justify what was being perpetrated in the Congo. Thus in a letter addressed to the United States episcopate, written on Christmas Eve 1998: “The Kigali regime is ceaselessly capitalizing on the genocide [in Rwanda, ed.] constantly reminding Westerners of their apathy and their lack of intervention in that happening”. And again: “We ask ourselves, can only the victors claim for themselves the status of victims of genocide? Or can the vanquished also have the right to appeal against these violations? Must we wait till the massacre is over before speaking of genocide? But given that the genocide of the Tutsi is considered as the only really important one, we must at least objectively establish among ourselves the direct and indirect responsibilities, at home and abroad, before supporting the group claiming the exclusivity of the genocide. We must remember what the genocide of Rwandans was, Hutu and Tutsi. In general, the international community should be able to see to it that the genocide, which is selling so well today, is not at times tolerated or shaped with a view to profit”. And elsewhere he rues the deafness of the international community: ‘The world is stopping its ears because a larger ideology has been put into circulation, compared to which everything else is relative. Genocide become ‘ideological’ then works like a blank check that the current US administration has issued to Rwanda and Uganda to do anything they want to all the communities around in total impunity”.
The prelate’s allegations were backed with detail and several times he asked for clarification of what really happened in Rwanda, recalling, among other things, that it was the US that influenced the resolution of 27 April 1994 which, in practice, put an end to the UN mission, leaving the Hutu butchers full freedom of action. And in October 1999, again in reference to the real responsibility for the Rwandan slaughter, he wrote: “No one can justify the genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994. Even today the real culprits have not been identified. Nobody wants to say who triggered the explosion: who killed Habyarimana [the Rwandan president assassinated April 6, 1994,

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