The essential characteristic of courage, its ‘actus principalior’, is steadfastness, endurance in the face of adversity, holding fast to the truth even, if necessary, to death. This is the teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas.

There are no lack of adverse circumstances in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. For over 20 years now roving bands of armed militants have been disrupting the structures of society, creating a state of civil war. Again and again the attempts by the major seminary in Bukavu to stand on its own feet and support itself without outside help have been frustrated or brought to nothing by the violence and looting. But they remain steadfast. The seminarians – 72 of them at present – their six permanent professors and the four religious Sisters have all kept going: studying, teaching and looking after the every-day needs of the seminary.

They all know that here, unseen and unnoticed, the future life of the country is germinating, despite the insecurity all around them. They know too that this life is possible only thanks to your generosity. As, once again, you have made up the shortfall in their modest budget. This is mostly for food and the support of the seminary professors. What the students have learned cannot be looted.

Your aid has borne wonderful fruit. One seminarian, Kasereka Kikandu, 24, recalls, ‘My first years in another seminary were years of fear. We constantly heard of massacres and lootings. Then I came here. I’m amazed at the courage and the joyful manner of the teachers. They urge us to pray for the dead and for their killers. The biggest surprise of all for me was to learn that there are Christians who are helping us without even knowing us, simply because we are their brothers in the faith. This gives us courage, it gives us hope. We hold them in our hearts and our thoughts.’ And to you, these ‘friends and brothers of ACN’ he adds, ‘I have nothing but my constant prayers to give you. But they come right from my heart.’

Bitaha Murhula Franck has been in Bukavu for just a year. He is brimming with joy. ‘I love the priesthood and the consecrated life’, he says. He too is moved by the selfless solidarity of your help. ‘You have awakened the joy of the missionary life in me, and I tell myself: Bita, you still have a long way to go before you feel this impulse of mercy in the face of other peoples’ need’.

Taking to heart the need of others and being willing to help is a mercy that bears fruit. Throughout Africa the need is great. Last year you helped almost 4,700 seminarians in Africa, twice as many as just two years before. This suggests that the number of vocations in Africa is rising. The 72 seminarians in Bukavu will no doubt be conscious that Jesus himself sent out 72 disciples (see Luke 10:1ff).

This was also a symbolic number, indicative of the whole world, since at that time there was thought to be only 72 different peoples. Today there are more than that in the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone. To them, thanks to your help, the seminarians of Bukavu will soon be proclaiming the Gospel, with courage and endurance – and perhaps also to other nations, beyond the borders of Africa.

This article can be found in Mirror 0317.