OUR MARTYRS OF THE CONGO
“Our way is God, and if we die, we will die, but we can not abandon the mission”
The Dominican missionaries have experienced firsthand the grace of martyrdom: lay down one’s life for the sake of the poor, which is the cause of God.
Our four sisters martyrs, Maria Justa, Maria del Buen Consejo, Maria Candida and Maria Olimpia, gave testimony to the deep love that linked them to the people of the village. Their fidelity to God is disguised in concrete names and faces whom they cared day by day in their work as nurses, in whom they accompanied and educated in the faith. Day and night, they have fought for the life of others, truly committed that in no way wanted to abandon the misión and sought the possibility to could have to continue doing it.
These four women embraced their missionary vocation embodied in the Congolese people, who then lived a complex political and social reality. The Mission of Stanleyville was opened in March 1960, and three months after the country declared its independence from Belgian rule. It was a time of great confusion, which becomes a breeding ground for ideological manipulation. The departure of the settlers paralyzed the industry, the violence and the chaos is installed in the region, the death of some local leaders and the confrontation of factions between the rebel and military sharpens the crisis.
Our sisters must have undergone multiple needs, lack of resources to care for the sick. However, the solidarity of the people reassured them: “Providence stands by us; as we do something for the poor, so too, we receive the reward. “There was a time a woman brought us bananas, another a hen and thus… the Lord keeps watch on His missionaries”.
On August 4, a firefight started that seemed to come from the right side of the Congo River (the mission was left). It is said that the rebels entered Stanleyville, the shots even reached to the misión area. But the sisters despite of the insecurity, continued their work within the possibilities they had at that moment, since health personnel was scarce and the workers of the hospital did not come to work. The question that resonates in their hearts is: “How shall we leave the sick? How can we leave it all and set it aside ? ”
On the 7th August the “simbas” reached Stanleyville and triggered a massacre. They kill soldiers, police officers and those who are not of their party. The missions were continually harassed. Since September 14, some missionaries are incarcerated, and up to the 24th of November, all missionaries were almost concentrated in the city. The religious sisters were in the house of the Franciscan Sisters and the missionary priests in the police post, which were much later gathered at this place.
On November 24, the different countries involved in the conflict along with the United Nations started to prepare for the intervention. The prisoners are forced to down to a winery, there were 3 priests, 5 brothers, 12 religious, 1 Protestant Pastor, 1 settler and a family who were from another room. From where the prisoners were taken, they could hear the planes and the combat. Intervention forces are far away with the pride of the “simbas”, such that the possibility of rescuing the prisoners was impossible.
Our sisters suffered all kinds of torture and harassment to female dignity, however still have had the strength to comfort and care for the children of the family who were taken prisoners, since the mother was injured. On the 25th of November, they were forced to line up next to the walls, men on one side and the women on the other. There they open fired and shot them all. Our Sister Olimpia, before she was beheaded took her ring of religious profession and that of Sr. Justa and gave them to one Congolene brother to send their rings to their own families.
Our martyrs stood in solidarity with the suffering of the African people, and their blood has not been spilled in vain. We feel responsible for their legacy and as in a phrase of the martyr Bishop Mee Muzihirwa: “the best way to mourn a friend is to continue cultivating his field”. We want to continue growing our love for the African people in their struggles and dreams of liberation, of a more just and decent tomorrow.