Advocacy, Catholics Confront Global Poverty

Congo Crisis: ”For Us, this is a moral imperative”

A large delegation made up of parishioners of Saint Camillus parish in Silver Spring, MD, several of their friends and neighbors huddled together at 9:15 a.m. in the Senate Hart Office Building on a gloomy, rainy day in Washington, DC.  They were intently listening to the leader of their delegation—Father Jacek Orzechowski, OFM—talking them through the meetings scheduled for that day.

Father Jacek is impressive. He’s a young Francisan friar, with a shock of brown hair and beard, intense eyes and a purposeful gait. He speaks with passion and conviction about what this delegation is here to do. They are meeting with their members of Congress—Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD, 5th), and Representative Donna Edwards (D-MD, 4th) among others—to urge their support for pending legislation that seeks to address the horrific violence in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The conflict in the Eastern DRC has by some estimates killed more than 3 million people—equal to the populations of Phoenix and Philadelphia combined. Most of the deaths are attributed to malnutrition, disease and lack of access to health care. Hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been raped.  Millions of people have been forced from their homes. The cause of this violence is armed groups’ control over lucrative mines and mineral trade routes. One of several such “conflict minerals” is coltan, a critical component for the production of cell phones, laptops, and other electronics.

The bills in the United States Congress, H.R. 4128, the Conflict Minerals Trade Act and S.891, the Congo Conflict Minerals Act, would require companies to provide more information about the source of their minerals. While they implement it in different ways, both bills call for on-going documentation of the links between mining and human rights violations in the DRC, including maps of mines and mineral trading routes that finance conflict. They also promote more humanitarian and development assistance for affected communities in the DRC.

Saint Camillus is made up of a large French-speaking community, many of whom hail from the DRC. Several of its members are here today. Beatrice, Iyofe Christine, George, Mbuyi. So it’s easy to understand why Father Jacek would be so passionate about this issue; members of his own parish are directly affected by what is happening in the DRC.

But his passion for justice goes beyond simply empathizing for his flock. It’s rooted in his faith, in Catholic social teaching.  He is acting out what it means to stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers around the world who are experiencing unspeakable acts of violence. He is demonstrating what it means to uphold the life and dignity of the human person by standing up for the people in the Congo who are being raped, mutilated and killed over minerals that are used in our cell phones, laptops, and other electronic devices.

Watch this video clip of Father Jacek explaining what has motivated the delegation to visit with members of Congress regarding these bills.

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Tina Rodousakis, CRS Grassroots Advocacy Manager

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