As poverty continues to grow in the Republic of the Congo, a local bishop is concerned that his priests do not have enough to eat.
The Republic of the Congo, also referred to as Congo-Brazzaville, is rich with natural resources, particularly petroleum. Yet nearly 50 percent of the population lives in poverty, according to the World Bank.
Bishop Bienvenu Manamika Bafouakouahou leads the Diocese of Dolisie, established in 2013, where the population lacks clean drinking water and basic medical care.
“The average Congolese is a poor man living in a rich country, with oil reserves welling up beneath the ground — yet the wealth is shared among a handful of the rich and powerful,” said Bishop Bafouakouahou in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need.
“In my diocese my priests’ first concern is to get enough to eat,” continued the Bishop of Dolisie. “If one of them were to have serious health problems, I don’t know what we’d do.”
The bishop explained that the state hospitals have been on strike for months because the government no longer funds basic medicine. The drop in crude oil prices constrained government spending to the point in which many doctors and nurses were not paid.
The formerly Marxist country still feels the effects of the civil war in the late 1990s that destroyed much of Congo’s infrastructure.
“There is no safe drinking water here; many adults die drinking contaminated water,” said Bishop Bafouakouahou.
Although the Dolisie diocese struggles with material poverty, it is rich in priestly vocations, according to the bishop.
However, in a country where the unemployment rate is more than 50 percent, Bishop Bafouakouahou said he must carefully screen potential seminarians to ensure their priestly calling is deeply rooted in faith, rather than a “fall back” professional opportunity.
The bishop is also sees a connection between the rise in poverty and growth of freemasonry and Islam within his country.
“Given the poverty in the country, Islam and its money are seducing the young people — even including some of my altar servers,” said Bishop Bafouakouahou.
When he asked one of his former altar servers why he had become a Muslim, he said that the young boy replied, “Father, when I was your altar server, did you give me a penny? With Islam I was given a scholarship, a wife and my shop.”
The Congolese bishop said that he is utilizing Eucharistic adoration, the local Catholic radio station, and preaching in the market square to try to grow the shrinking Catholic population, which fell from 60 percent to 40 percent between 1995 and 2005, according to Bafouakouahou.
In 2010, 30 percent of the Congolese population was Catholic, according to the Pew Research Center.