Catholic Priest’s Last Words to Congolese Gunmen: ‘Why Are You Killing?’

A tireless advocate of human rights in Africa, Father Vincent Machozi Karunzu had escaped death at least seven times until he gave his life on Monday.

Father Vincent Machozi Karunzu.
Father Vincent Machozi Karunzu. (photo: Cenco.cd)

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo — A Congolese Catholic priest who documented human rights abuses in his home country was killed by armed gunmen early Monday morning.

Father Vincent Machozi Karunzu was murdered March 21 by armed militants in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the procurator general of the Augustinians of the Assumption said in a message.

The 51-year-old priest was visiting his family in the village of Katolu and had worked in peace-building activities.

The priest documented human rights abuses and atrocities in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the Boston University website BU Today said March 23. Shortly before armed gunmen killed him, he had posted an article online denouncing Congolese and Rwandan presidents’ alleged involvement in massacres of innocent civilians.

The human rights website Beni Lubero, which the priest had founded, said that 10 uniformed soldiers of the DRC’s armed forces stormed a social center where Nande tribal chiefs were holding a meeting about peace efforts. The gunmen demanded to be taken to the priest and to Mwami Abdu Kalemire III, the leader of the Basho community.

They found the priest in a courtyard working on a laptop and opened fire. While their other target escaped unharmed, Father Machozi’s last words were “Why are you killing?”

Boston University science professor Timothy Longman remembered his former colleague.

“He was trying to show the world who was killed and who was responsible,” Longman told BU Today. “He wasn’t on any particular side.”

Longman said Father Machozi had survived at least seven earlier attempts on his life.

The Assumptionists’ North American province published an interview with the priest on its website.

He was one of thirteen children, some of whom died at birth. Due to these deaths, her mother called him Machozi, “son of tears.” He became a candidate for the Assumptionists at the age of 17. Before taking final vows, he taught religion, chemistry and mathematics.

During his time in Massachusetts, he worked with the Haitian community as a French-speaking priest.

He earned a master’s degree in theology at the Institut Catholique in Lille, France. He moved to the U.S. in 2003 and later began doctoral studies at Boston University’s Department of Theology in conflict management and peace processes in Africa.

Dana Robert, a professor of world Christianity, praised the priest’s work: “Every time there has been a genocide, there has been a Catholic priest that has reported on it.”

She said priests play a large role in “giving voice to the voiceless.”

“That’s why the loss of Vincent is so horrible,” she said, comparing him to slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Robert said, “When you do that, you become a target, and he did that knowing what the danger was.” 

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