On 25 January, Congolese Catholics from all over London gathered at St Joan of Arc Church in Highbury as they do every Sunday for the Congolese community Mass. This particular Sunday however they welcomed Cardinal Vincent for a Mass to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of Blessed Marie-Clementine Anuarite Nengapeta.
In traditional Congolese fashion, the Mass was an exuberant and joyous celebration that included music, dance and liturgy in four languages: English, French, Latin and Lingala.
Among the concelebrants were, the General Secretary of the Episcopal Conference of Congo Abbe Leonard Santedi Kinkupu, Congolese Chaplain Fr Noel Mpati-Ne-Nzita and Parish Priest of St Joan of Arc Fr Gerard King.
In his homily, Cardinal Vincent recalled the history of Anuarite who became Sr Marie-Clementine of the Sisters of the Holy Family, her courage and steadfastness in the face of threats to her life, and, even as she lay dying, her forgiveness for her murderers’ actions.
The Cardinal reflected, ‘This is a wonderful story of love, suffering, forgiveness and faithfulness in the face of such anger and evil. It is a story to thrill our hearts and give us so much encouragement.’
Born in 1939, the youngest of six daughters, Anuarite was inspired by the life of the Sisters of the Holy Family who ran the school that she attended in her hometown of Wamba. She joined the convent in Bafwabaka in 1959, taking her vows on 5 August and became Sr Marie-Clementine.
During the Mulele Rebellion in 1964, Sr Marie-Clementine was kidnapped, along with the other 45 nuns, by the rebel army. One of the colonels wanted to keep Sr Marie-Clementine as his wife, but she refused, which led to her beating, stabbing and shooting death. She was martyred on 1 December 1964. Even as she was beaten, she said to her assailants, 'I forgive you for you know not what you are doing.'
Cardinal Vincent went on to say, ‘Her actions become a light in our eyes, teaching us by example how we are to treat each other, forgive each other, never hold grudges against each other, resist anger with patience and love, continue to be generous even when we are not thanked or appreciated. Only in these ways can we too express in our lives the same love of God that your Blessed Anuarite, your Blessed Marie-Clementine, showed in her life.’ (The full text of the homily can be read here.)
After the Communion, Grace Sindula stepped forward to address the Cardinal on behalf of all the children present. Addressing him as ‘Tata Cardinal’, she explained that it’s a Congolese tradition to call him their father.
She said, ‘Your Eminence, Tata Cardinal, if winter brings its cold outside, your presence brings the warmth of our Christian faith on the inside. Your presence encourages us to express our joy to be Catholic Christians. To say the least, your presence brings the spirit of Jesus Christ.’
She thanked the Cardinal for his presence and continued, ‘We, your children from the D.R. Congo, ask that you pray and bless us so that we may experience the joy of the gospel; we would like to know Jesus more, to follow and serve him.’
After a presentation of a gift as a ‘gesture from your children as a souvenir of your pastoral visit’, all the children in the congregation were invited to come forward for a photo with the Cardinal as a reminder ‘always to be present today and tomorrow in the Church of Jesus.’
Additional photos of the Mass can be found here.