Bishop Masimango Katanda and his wife, Naomi. Bryce Amner • ACNS
By Louise Wright
The Most Rev. Masimango Zacharie Katanda, new archbishop of the Anglican Church of Congo, is Bishop of Kindu, a seldom-visited diocese that has relatively few links with the rest of the world. Why then does his name sound familiar to many?
Perhaps you have read about the welcome he gave to writer Tim Butcher when Butcher was feeling lonely and depressed as he attempted to cross the Democratic Republic of Congo: “You must not give up hope. God will provide.”
“The words of Masimango Katanda perked me up,” Butcher wrote in Blood River (Chatto and Windus, 2007).
Or perhaps you have come across the bishop at some international conference on peace and reconciliation. Most recently he was a delegate at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, described by Ban Ki-Moon of the United Nations as a “turning point” in the way the world works to alleviate the suffering of millions.
These are the two sides of this remarkable man. In Kindu he travels by motorbike along muddy forest tracks to bring faith and encouragement to scattered and impoverished congregations.
Very little outside help ever reaches the villages of Maniema, so the bishop encourages the churches to use their own resources in their efforts to spread the gospel and build the church. He speaks of his childhood, when he spent hours out in his family’s fields scaring the birds off the rice so they would have food on to eat.
Yet his formative years were not mainly in a village. His father worked in the headquarters of a mining company in Kalima. It is now the centre of an archdeaconry preparing to become another diocese. Such is the growth of the church under Bishop Masimango’s leadership.
Here the family had a brick house, education, and medical care. Although Zaire (as the country was then called) was independent, the mining company was still controlled by Belgians. Bishop Masimango said it was only when he was in his late teens that he realised the provisions his family received were nothing compared to the wealth the Belgians were taking out of the country.
Family members had a great respect for their Walega heritage. Masimango’s father had several wives. The young Masimango was sent away one summer holiday to be initiated into the secret traditions of the Walega men. Growing up with these two traditions and an inquiring mind prepared him for the tasks ahead.
It was time for the young man to extend his education elsewhere. He prepared to travel to the capital to study medicine. On the way he found himself in Bukavu (then the centre of the diocese that included Kindu) waiting for a connection that did not materialise. He found enthusiastic people about to start studying at the Anglican theological college, now in Bunia. He had been feeling a strong call to serve God and decided this was the right thing to do.
After ordination he was not sent back to Kindu but to Goma. Here he and his wife, Naomi, had a fruitful ministry. They were responsible at first for a parish and later the archdeaconry. Children followed in rapid succession. Their little wooden house, surrounded by hard black lava, was full of little ones, all of whom seemed happy to squeeze over to welcome visitors.
Masimango also set up and worked in a successful Anglican high school. Visitors arriving at Goma airport would find aggressive officials melting when they realised Headmaster Masimango was there to meet them. He was highly respected throughout the area.
Meanwhile the Anglican Church in Maniema (the region centred on Kindu) was growing fast. The Bishop of Bukavu managed the difficult and dangerous car journey there in 1989 and found huge numbers waiting for confirmation. This was the last time a car got through for many years as the forest and war closed in. Clearly there was a need for a locally based bishop. An Australian assistant bishop was appointed to prepare the way. He encouraged Masimango to visit his home area again. In 1996 Bukavu’s diocesan synod met in Kindu and Masimango was elected bishop. Plans began for the service to inaugurate the diocese and enthrone the new bishop.
Invasions in the Democratic Republic of Congo start from the east. Masimango and family were still in Goma when war started there. All flights stopped. Plans were put on hold as battles spread from east to west. People started moving freely as soon as the rebels reached Kinshasa, and the Diocese of Kindu was inaugurated just a year late on Aug. 31, 1997.
Moving from Goma to Kindu was not easy for the Katanda family. They moved into a much larger house and were definitely important people but, particularly for the children who had never known Maniema, it was a huge culture shock. Goma, on the border with Rwanda, is a sophisticated town.
At that time Kindu had hardly any tarmac roads and no electricity, and one had to cross the River Congo in a dug-out canoe, however important you were. A seventh child, Sara, was born in Kindu, but even she chose to join her sister in Kinshasa once she was old enough. The oldest girl married a local boy, now working for the United Nations, and they have three young children. All the others have been successful in higher education in various parts of Africa.
During his first five years as bishop, Masimango was also greatly in demand for the work of peace and reconciliation. He went into the forest and negotiated with rebels, listening to them and showing them they need not go on fighting. He was a senator in the interim government responsible for drafting the constitution, but he still managed to get out to most of the remote parts of his diocese for confirmations. He also set up a central Bible school for pastoral training and held annual refresher courses for the clergy and their wives.
Naomi is active organising the Mothers’ Union, including working with women who have been raped and traumatised by war. She continues the great tradition of hospitality in the home.
Throughout his life Bishop Masimango has shown a talent for reconciling different cultures and apparently irreconcilable demands. Becoming Archbishop while remaining Bishop of Kindu seems an impossible task but, as he said to Tim Butcher, “God will provide.”