QUEBEC CITY - For Father Gaston Ndaleghana Mumbere, the feast of the Assumption represents his hope for better tomorrows for Congo.
In his recently published book, this 35-year-old Assumptionist priest describes the violence that plagues his home country. But mostly, he writes to allow a people used to crying from under the rubble of chaos to speak once again.
Father Mumbere is from North Kivu, a Congolese province that, for 20 years, has been at the heart of a conflict that has killed up to 8 million people in the East African nation.
Sent to Quebec City by his religious order in 2009 to study theology, he eventually took up writing to tell of the Congolese drama. His French-language book, "La cloche ne sonnera plus a l'eglise de Butembo-Beni" ("The Bell Won't Ring Anymore at Butembo-Beni's Church"), is written like a series of letters addressed to his Aunt Assumpta, a fictitious name that serves two purposes: to protect her identity, and to have a constant reference to the feast of the Assumption.
"Mary has walked the path that awaits us: the path of the Resurrection," said Father Mumbere. "The path toward the Father. She's like a model that encourages us, that tells us it's possible to make it. Stay strong. Mary is not the path. Jesus is."
In this sense, he said, the Assumption is not just a devotion, "It's something real, alive."
Father Mumbere bases his Marian reflection on the Bible, and he used it as a basis for preaching in August at the Sanctuary of the Sacred Heart, also known as the Canadian Montmartre. He said the New Testament tells of how Mary feels the pain of others.
"It's at this moment that this woman is a model, an inspiration. Mary becomes important, not because I must venerate her, but because she shows me how I must care for the others, for what is lacking in their lives."
He said he wanted his book to rely on this "path" of the Assumption to tell about the harsh Congolese reality.
"For me, the first thing, the urgency, is to liberate the word," he said in French, giving his sentence a double meaning, since it could translate as "to speak freely" or as "to free the Word of God."
"It's not enough to say: 'Bah, 8 million people died in Congo and that's it.' I vouch for the word. The muffled word."
The priest compared the Congolese people to victims stuck under rubble. They cannot talk; they can only cry out, hoping someone will hear them.
Father Mumbere reminded people that in a context of terror, such as in North Kivu, it is difficult to speak freely.
Without delving in all the atrocities, Father Mumbere's book tells of the dehumanizing violence, such as an incident with his grandmother's neighbors, when armed men raped the mother and her daughters, before forcing the husband and sons to rape them as well to have their lives spared.
"I wish free speech for them," said the priest. "We must speak 'for' these raped women, and not 'of' them. I wish the readers to enter the dynamic of also speaking for these women. For me, it's biblical. To speak for the others is like a place of salvation."
Among the victims he wants to speak for, Father Mumbere remembers his Assumptionist friends, kidnapped Oct. 19, 2012. Fathers Jean-Pierre Ndulani, Anselme Wasukundi, and Edmond Bamutupe were all ministering at the Mbau parish, in the Butembo-Beni Diocese, when they were taken. Although many people think the priests have been killed, their fate remains unknown.
"It was a motivation to speak out. I cannot just stay in my sacristy. My prayer, I want it to be active. To pay tribute to these priests is to speak of the chaotic situation in Congo," he said.
"They give me the energy to write, to speak. And if they're dead, I think they pray for Congo. They pray for the Assumption. For the church. If they're alive, it will be a great joy to see them again," he added, his voice stifled with emotion.
"And to speak with them."
Vaillancourt is editor-in-chief of Presence info based in Montreal.