Encounter with the only Jesuit bishop of the Democratic Republic of Congo
During Fr. General’s visit to West Africa, Fr. Pierre Bélanger SJ of the Jesuit Curia Communications team took the opportunity to interview Bishop Donat Bafuidinsoni SJ, the only Jesuit bishop in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
During our visit to Kinshasa, we met with Bishop Donat Bafuidinsoni, SJ. He has been Bishop of Inongo for less than a year and admits that he still has much to learn from this territory of more than one million inhabitants, most of them Catholic, spread over 23 isolated parishes. It is a region of dense tropical forest where roads are practically non-existent. Two large rivers, tributaries of the Congo River, and lake Maï-Ndombe cross the territory and act as the primary transportation routes.
The diocese, though large in acreage, is sparsely staffed. More than 100,000 square kilometers are served by about sixty priests, a limited number of men and women religious, and a dedicated corps of “pastoral assistants” who serve remote communities, often by pirogue or on foot.
That a Jesuit bishop was sent to Inongo by Pope Francis is a historical event worth noting. The Society of Jesus sent the first missionaries in the region, but they quickly came into conflict with settlers who sought to enslave the local populations for forestry or rubber harvesting. The settlers, wanting slavery to improve their profits, rightly feared that the Jesuits would denounce their forced labor policies and awaken people’s consciousness as to the moral bankruptcy of slavery.