by Maddie Robertson
On Nov. 27, 2016, the central African country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo failed to hold an election to determine the successor of President Joseph Kabila. In 2017, the nation once again neglected to hold a vote. Since then, the Congo has been in a constant state of political unrest.
While the government has promised to host another election this December, the country is still plagued with violence and distress. Among those struggling to avoid the vicious actions of rebels include 35 Servite Sisters who happen to be one of Marian’s Sister congregations.
Sister Mary Gehringer, Prioress of the Servants of Mary, has had limited contact with the Sisters, but knows enough about their situation to understand that they must be kept in the Marian community’s thoughts.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” Gehringer said. “There are rebels basically that are in the area stirring up trouble. There have been deaths and torture.”
The area Gehringer spoke of is Butembo, a bustling city in the northeastern part of the Congo. Despite the size of the city, “The Sisters have been safe,” Gehringer said.
In fact, the Sisters have been doing what they can to continue on with their day-to-day lives. “They are assuring that their daily ministries can continue. They’re very dedicated to their schools, their healthcare posts and their education,” Gehringer said.
Indeed, the Sisters spend their time in prayer and caring for the sick. A handful of the Sisters were even able to travel to France to further their education despite the turmoil occurring in their home country. Of the three studying, one is earning her doctorate in theology, one is a few months away from becoming a doctor, and one is studying to become an administrator for the local school the Sisters serve.
Though the Sisters are continuing on in the midst of a crisis, they still acknowledge the potential threats surrounding their community. “They have been making plans so if they had to escape, they could. They’re aware and on alert,” Gehringer said.
Another form of reassurance the Sisters have is that of the Vatican. In the event that the country shuts down completely, the Sisters would still be able to connect with the outside world via the satellite used in the Vatican.
While it is impossible for even the Sisters to say when the political discord will end, the Servants of Mary have hope that their Congolese Sisters will be reunited with them as early as this summer when the Omaha Servite community will be hosting a Congressional Assembly. Every Sister from the United States, Jamaica, Canada, England, France, Belgium, Austria and the Congo are welcome to come and discuss the future of their Congregation.
“We are hoping for a representation from the Congo. We are hoping they can come to know the rest of the community and for us to know them. In the near future, they’re going to be the leaders. We’re doing everything we can to keep the connection strong,” Gehringer said.
Despite the wishes of the Sisters in the Congo and Servants of Mary, the Congo is still plagued by chaos. However, Marian can still be of assistance to the Sisters. “The prayers are the key thing, even to remember them daily in prayer,” Gehringer said.
Despite living in constant uncertainty of what the next day will bring, one constant that the Sisters in the Congo can count on is the continual support of the global Servite community, Sisters and students alike.