Franciscan Charities recently completed its eighth water project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the past four years with help of its donors, including St. Louis Review readers.
One of the water projects in Africa, in Lubumbashi where the Franciscan novitiate is located, received key funding from parishioners at St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Parish in south St. Louis County.
Clean, safe water now is available there and the villages of Kibwe, Lukonzolwa, Kilobelobe, Kabinda-Kyolokosa, Mulenga, Kienge, and Luano, the site of the latest well. Father John Eaton, provincial vicar of the Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart, explained that many of the wells use a solar-powered controller and consist of large reservoir tanks. Pipes run from the well to a watering station.
In 2016, the Franciscans of Sacred Heart Province in St. Louis asked Review readers to help with the project in parishes in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in South Sudan. The plans for South Sudan stalled because of widespread violence, but efforts in the DRC moved forward. The World Factbook reports that The DRC struggles with many socioeconomic problems, including high infant and maternal mortality rates, malnutrition, poor vaccination coverage, lack of access to improved water sources and sanitation. Basic public services, including potable water, is very limited and piecemeal.
The Franciscans started the effort as a Year of Mercy project in areas where Franciscans serve, focusing on one of the Corporal Works of Mercy, to “give drink to the thirsty.” An initial goal was for two wells. (Pope Francis opened a Year of Mercy in December 2015 calling people to live out the loving mercy that God has for us.)
The surface water in the republic often contains water-borne diseases such as malaria, and people are forced to walk for miles to find clean water, Father Eaton said.
Helping with the project is an opportunity to change people’s lives, the Franciscan priest said. “You’ll never meet these people, and the people won’t be able to thank you directly. But lives will be changed, not just in the present but far into the future. You’re saving lives and allowing girls to get an education because they’re not out hauling water all day long.”
The village of Lukonzolwa is in an area where the ground is too rocky to drill for a well. In the past, water was delivered by a series of pipes running from the mountains. When armed conflict broke out in the region several years ago, the pipes were either stolen or destroyed. It’s now repaired, and Franciscan Friar Jean-Marie Mufeji, who serves there, wrote that it is saving thousands of lives. “It will significantly reduce the waterborne diseases that are endemic in our region, and the painful life of our mothers and girls will considerably improve,” he stated.
St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Parish raised more than $12,000 last year for the project. Craig Bruns, who heads a new parish ministry, SPLASH (SMMA Parishioners Loving and Serving Humanity), said plans are to hold another fundraising drive to assist the Franciscan project, though it’s been delayed due to the
COVID-19 pandemic. A matching grant from a parishioner helped the first drive, and another match is promised for a second drive.
Clean water is “a basic need of people,” Bruns said. “That was a driving force for me. Now they have clean drinking water, water they can wash with, cook with, etc.”
People in the African village were forced to walk a 3-mile round trip to get water, Bruns said. The need exists in other villages, he said, so he’s eager to get the next fund drive started at St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.
>> How to help
To make an online gift, visit www.franciscancharities.org. Checks should be made out to Franciscan Charities and mailed to Year of Mercy Project, 3140 Meramec St., St. Louis, MO 63118.
For more information about St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Parish’s support of the project, contact Craig Bruns at (314) 825-0876.