Bishop Joseph Mokobe Njoku is the second Congolese bishop in charge of the diocese of Basankusu in DR Congo covering a huge swathe of rainforest in the central basin of the majestic Congo River.
The first Mill Hill missionaries arrived in the area in 1905 and stood at the cradle of what is now a thriving local Church. A tiny contingent of Mill Hill missionaries continues to make its contribution to dealing with the numerous challenges of widely dispersed communities in this isolated forest region.
So it was only natural that yesterday bishop Mokobe should come and visit the veteran Congolese missionaries now living in active retirement at St Jozefhuis and Missiehuis Vrijland, Oosterbeek, The Netherlands.
Questions there were aplenty when the local Congolese missionary ‘clan’ gathered around the table in the evening for an extensive ‘chinwag’ with bishop Mokobe.
“How is?”...... Apart from filling everybody in on the current activities and state of health of their many local acquaintances and friends the bishop also spoke about the hugely worrying volatile political situation in DR Congo. It seems unlikely that the delayed elections currently scheduled for December 31st will take place as negotiated. How will the population react to another unwarranted delay? Is there going to be a popular uprising?
The Episcopal Conference of DR Congo has played a pivotal role in mediating a peaceful settlement, but the Kabila regime has paid only lip service to the negotiated agreement.
Far away from the capital, Kinshasa, in the depths of the rainforest, the people of Basankusu only see ongoing decline without hope of improvement. The school system is in shambles and medical services are totally inadequate or non-existent. DR Congo is viewed by many as a ‘failed state’. A former Belgian minister of Development recently observed that “DR Congo does not have a functioning government, it only has a well oiled system of self-enrichment”.
Most dramatic is the virtual disappearance of any kind of road network in the diocese of Basankusu. There never was even one square inch of tarmac road in the area in the first place, but these past few years even the semblance of dirt roads has been taken over by the forest. Bishop Mokobe spoke of a recent pastoral visit which required him to travel some 200 km within the diocese. It used to take no more than a day to cover that distance in days gone by. It now took him a staggering nine days to cover that same distance – bridges had disappeared and needed to be rebuilt on the spot, here and there a fallen giant rainforest tree blocked the road and every now and then the vehicle got hopelessly stuck in giant mud holes in the marshes.
“You learn not to be in a hurry”, bishop Joseph observed with a wry smile, “ and you meet and chat with many more people along the way. Isn't that what you are meant to do as a pastor?”.
Some five years ago the majestic cathedral in Basankusu built by Brother Jan de Koning mhm more than 75 years ago had to be demolished because the foundations were crumbling and huge cracks had appeared in the brickwork. Bishop Mokobe courageously took up the challenge to replace it with a solid modern construction modelled on the old cathedral. That this enterprise is now nearing completion surely ranks in the category of veritable miracles viewing the well nigh insurmountable logistical hurdles that had to be taken.
A bright spot in an otherwise sombre landscape.
Fons Eppink mhm