By Tanya Connor
And William T. Clew
“I think he’s a martyr of the truth.”
That’s how a priest serving at Assumption College in Worcester described his fellow Congolese Assumptionist, Father Vincent Machozi, who was killed in their homeland Sunday.
Father Mulumba Kambale Matsongani, the only Congolese Assumptionist now living in the Worcester Diocese, shared memories of Father Machozi, who taught him in an Introduction to the Bible class when they were both still in their native Democratic Republic of Congo.
Both later studied and served in Massachusetts, Father Matsongani in the Worcester Diocese, Father Machozi in the Boston Archdiocese.
Father Machozi sometimes came to the Worcester Diocese, where he joined Assumptionist celebrations and gave talks about the Congo at Assumption College and knew some members of the African community, local Assumptionists said.
Father Machozi reportedly was killed Sunday by members of the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to Father John Frank, Assistant General, Augustinians of the Assumption.
Father Machozi, 51, was in Lyambo Parish in the town of Butembo where he had just celebrated Palm Sunday Mass and then visited his mother.
A letter to the Assumptionist community from Very Reverend Benoit Griere, A.A., Superior General of the Augustinians of the Assumption, detailed the attack.
Father Machozi “had just held a meeting with the town elders when a Jeep arrived with 10 armed soldiers at his house,” the letter said. “The soldiers demanded to know where Vincent Machozi was. Figuring out who he was in the small group gathered there, the assailants immediately riddled him with bullets. He died instantly.”
“Why are you killing me?” were his last words, according to an account of the attack by News.VA, the official Vatican network. That account included testimonies gathered by a Congolese priest which agreed that the killers were soldiers of the Congolese armed forces.
That story said the soldiers stormed the perimeter of Mon Beau Village where traditional Nande leaders were gathered to take part in a reflection on peace. The soldiers said they wanted to “hit the head” of Father Machozi and Mwami Abdul Kalemire, a community leader.
They found Father Machozi despite the attempt by villagers to hide him. Mr. Kalemire, who left before the soldiers arrived, survived, the story stated.
According to the story, Father Machozi had been threatened with death because he repeatedly “denounced the suffering of the Nande population caused by the presence of different armed groups dedicated to the illegal exploitation of coltan in the Territory of Beni, often with the connivance of the regular army.”
Other news stories said that coltan is a mineral used in the manufacture of cell phones.
Because of the death threats Father Machozi came to the United States in 2003, but continued to edit a website. John L. Allen Jr., associate editor of “Crux, Covering all things Catholic,” wrote that Father Machozi documented violence, including beheadings, against the Nande people, and labeled it “genocide.” Father Machozi returned to his country in 2011 and survived seven attacks.
Mr. Allen quoted the Rev. Emmanuel Kahindo, the Rome-based vicar general of the Assumptionists and a fellow Congolese, as saying that Father Machozi knew the end was likely at hand, telling him last October: “My days are numbered. I will be murdered, I feel it … but like Christ, for the sake of our people, I will not be silent.”
“I will continue my fight to the end and continue to condemn all those who sow division and hatred between ethnic groups in the region to rule and continue to exploit the riches,” the superior quoted him as saying.
Father Machozi was born in 1965. At 17 he entered the Augustinians of the Assumption. After completing his studies in France he was ordained a priest in Angers in 1994. He taught at the seminary in Kinshasa and studied for a doctorate at Boston University in conflict resolution.
Father Matsongani said Father Machozi co-founded a Congolese Catholic community in the Boston Archdiocese and an organization of Nande people in the United States.
“He was a tremendous teacher. He’s a smart guy and he’s full of initiative,” Father Matsongani said. “He started an ecumenical movement in the Diocese of Butembo-Beni (in Congo). He could unite all of the Christian Churches to discuss important issues on faith, politics … And this was … appreciated by many.”
Father Matsongani said Father Machozi claimed he had a huge parish; he believed that through the Internet he could preach. That “parish” was those people he connected with through his website www.benilubero.com.
“He could post some truth about what is going on in the Congo, so he was very much immersed in Church and politics,” Father Matsongani said. Among things he posted were interviews with people who escaped massacres, describing what they saw and heard, he said.
Father Machozi always sensed he was in danger; “he sounded even paranoid about that” at times, said Father Claude Grenache, superior of Assumptionist Center in Brighton where the Congolese priest lived.
“We always were a little concerned about that; we didn’t want him to put the rest of the community in danger,” Father Grenache said.
“We’re all worried about our other guys” in the Eastern part of Congo, said Assumptionist Father Dennis Gallagher, Assumption College’s vice president for mission. He said two Congolese Assumptionists who studied at Assumption College are now back in that dangerous region. He also expressed concern about the safety of peace and justice commissions in Assumptionist-run parishes there.
He cautioned against rushing to judgement about calling Father Machozi a martyr. But he said it seems to him that the Father Machozi qualifies for the designation of martyr, because of his direct advocacy for peace and justice.