Archbishop returns from the Congo
Monday 27th June 2011The Archbishop of Canterbury today returned from a pastoral visit to the Anglican Church in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where he learnt about the inspirational work of the church in helping individuals and communities rebuild their lives after the trauma of years of conflict.
Dr Williams was able to meet a group of young men in Bunia who had been taken from school to join the militia, but who had been brought back to their families by a church organisation called 'AGAPE', which had transformed their lives through faith and compassion. It was evident from their personal testimonies that the real priority for them was to complete their education, with many returning to secondary school to continue their studies, despite being a decade or more older than their classmates.
The Archbishop also travelled the village of Boga (which is the place where the Anglican Church in Congo was founded by the Ugandan evangelist, Apolo Kivebulaya). He was greeted by the local chief and, after a service of celebration at St Apolo Cathedral, met with several hundred indigenous people (pygmies) who had come to tell their stories about being driven out of their forest homes and had already spent two years living in limbo - with little sign of an end to their displacement.
In the gardens of the Cathedral, Dr Williams talked with a group of women who had suffered serious atrocities at the hands of the militia and the accompanying stigma and isolation from their families and communities. The Anglican Church has responded to endemic sexual violence against women by establishing an Association of Women, working in collaboration with the Mothers' Union to campaign against the violence and stigma and also with practical help in helping women reach to reach a health centre within 72 hours of an assault to receive preventative treatment for HIV.
Speaking about the visit, the Most Revd Henri Isingoma, Archbishop of the Anglican Church in Congo, said:
"Your visit has strengthened the fraternal relations of communion between the Province de L'Eglise Anglicane du Congo and the other Provinces of the Anglican Communion. Here we have a saying 'The true friend is the one we see in moments of distress.' For the Congolese people you are a friend because of the pastoral care you have ministered to us as a spiritual father".
At the closing stages of the visit, Dr Williams said:
"What I have been able to see of the work of the Anglican Church of Congo has been intensely moving and inspiring. This is a church which really makes a difference for the most damaged and vulnerable people in a society emerging - still precariously - from a period of terrible collective trauma. They need encouragement and support – but we need their vision and compassion even more".