There are four Augustinian communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (previously known as the Belgian Congo, and then as Zaire).
These are staffed mainly by Congolese Augustinians, plus (in 2003) by three German and one Belgian Augustinian who presence derives from an earlier mode of operation that began in the year 1952.
The present four communities are located at Poko (founded in 1966), Amadi (1977), Dungu (1980), and Kinshasa (1991).
In 2006 the newly elected Vicar of Congo, Michel Kaneru Mivunguba O.S.A., is visiting these Augustinian communities to prepare for the chapter of the Vicariate of the Congo which will take place from 6th to 11th March 2006 at Poko, in the eastern province of Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The following is an edited "first impressions" article by an Augustinian from Europe visiting the Augustinian community at Kinshasa in the Congo. The article first appeared in January 2003.
(To move past this article to another report of the Augustinians in the Congo, click here.)
This visitor writes of his time in the capital city, Kinshasa, at Saint Rita's Priory, where there are twenty one Congolese Augustinian students.
Saint Rita's Priory was formerly a broom factory that has been developed during the last twelve years into an Augustinian cloister with 26 rooms, three apprenticeship halls and a library of books of theology. The hall in the old factory was transformed into a worthy chapel.
The Congolese artist, Joseph Kitoko, painted a large and dramatic altar backdrop on the wall behind the altar (See next page).
It depicts the situation of the church of Africa and the Order of Saint Augustine there today.
Here is what the Eurpoean visitor wrote (in edited form):
"A flight of nine hours to reach the Congo. High up in the thin air the unaccustomed traveller keeps looking out for what lies ahead: a different world, a land fully unknown to himself. And then the aircraft slows down and descends. We land in the Congolese night which at 9.00pm seems to have proceeded faster in its swiftness that we are used to.
After some two hours of fussing at the Customs gate, Matthias Hecht succeeds in getting us into his car. The road is as straight as can be, but in the darkness the car bumps from one hole to another.
To the left and right people have gathered around fires. The air is filled with voices and sultry with smoke of burning wood and damp warmth.
Along the journey of thirty kilometres, people sit and wait and lean against crumbling houses clearly not fit to guarantee a decent living. The poor light throws shadows of shabby and decaying houses. This is my first acquaintance with a staggering nation.
The gate of the Augustinian property opens. We have arrived at Saint Rita's Community. German-born Father Benno Friedrich O.S.A. welcomes us. One after another, out of the darkness our Congolese Augustinian friars appear. Mutual greetings: cordial, but shy at the same time.
For me it's difficult to memorise their names, but I'll never forget those broad smiles and their pearly white teeth in their dark faces. This hospitality in my second Congolese experience, and it would be affirmed again and again as the days passed.
(Continued on the next page.)