The persecution of Christians has escalated in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), prompting fears that a jihadist group is gaining strength in the region.
At least 36 people were killed in the North Kivu region on Saturday. It is the deadliest attack there since November 2014, with some saying that casualties might be nearer to 50. The victims were reportedly tied up and hacked to death.
The Islamist Allied Democratic Forces-National Association for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU) have targeted Christians in the north-east of the DRC for several years after their attempt to overthrow the Ugandan government failed.
The United Nations has urged the Democratic Republic of Congo to investigate the massacre. A statement from the UN’s high commissioner on human rights said the death toll from the group since 2014 had risen to 645.
On Monday the Pope condemned the “shameful silence” over the violence in the region.
At his Angelus for the feast of the Assumption, he said: “My thoughts go to the people of North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who have been recently hit with fresh massacres, which have for some time been perpetrated in shameful silence, without attracting even as much as our attention. Unfortunately, they are part of the too many innocent people who have no weight on world opinion.”
The charity World Watch Monitor said the weekend’s killings were part of ongoing weekly attacks including rape, looting and kidnapping.
One observer who works for Open Doors International told Christiantoday.com: “Signs of recent attacks are visible everywhere on buildings dotted along the road. Smaller villages have been obliterated and hardly any civilian life is visible.
“Eighty per cent of the households here farms, but they cannot access them because is it simply too dangerous. This means no food and no revenue. They have become vulnerable to starvation,” one official told the charity.
“We do not understand why this is happening to us,” said one pastor. “The rebels just take people into the bush to kill them or kidnap them. They attack one place for a while and cause people to run away. Then they strike the places people run to.”