Ebola leader felled by COVID, a tragedy in the Congo

A sad tale of two pandemics

In the middle of the Ebola pandemic he brought hope in a place many wrote off as hopeless. Now a second pandemic, COVID-19, has killed Anglican Bishop Désiré Mukanirwa, of Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“The world has forgotten the Congo. We need the world to remember.” – Désiré Mukanirwa

The London Sunday Times described him as a “a short, round, jolly figure with a taste for funky suits when he is not wearing his cassock,” in an otherwise bleak report of Ebola ravishing what Mukanirwa called his “traumatised country”. Amid reports of a failing UN mission, riven with disputes with aid agencies, the Bishop told the paper: “The world has forgotten the Congo. We need the world to remember.”

His fellow Congolese Bishop, Muhindo Isesomo of North Kivu, tells Eternity, “Bishop Desire of Goma diocese, died last Saturday after a short sickness. His burial will be on Friday or Saturday this week in Goma. It seems that he died by the COVID-19.” That’s been sadly confirmed.

The “joy and dedication he brought to his work in context of disease, civil war, poverty and building new diocese was astonishing and inspiring” tweeted Canadian Anglican writer Jesse Zink.

“COVID-19 is no respecter of persons or positions. A man who humbly followed the way of Jesus (Philippians 2) has poured out his life in Christlike service to the people of his diocese,” Australia’s Anglican Aid posted.

“We are deeply grieved to learn of Bishop Désiré Mukanirwa’s sickness and death from coronavirus,” said Anglican Aid CEO Canon Tim Swan. “His passing brings into focus the troubling reality of the pandemic in developing nations. This virus has brought to a sudden end the life of a beloved and vital church leader in the Congo, alongside many other precious lives.”

Malcolm Richards is Bishop for International Relations in Sydney and an Anglican Aid board member. He remembers Mukanirwa as “a godly, Jesus loving man”, in an Anglican Aid statement.

“He was in late high school and already passionate about serving Jesus when I encountered him in the Goma Anglican youth group. The Lord gave him an equally capable and committed wife, Claudaline, and together they sought to train for ministry.”

“With degrees in theology and development studies, Désiré combined his love for evangelism with a concern for the marginalised in Congolese society – the poorest of the poor – widows, orphans and victims of rape in war.

“I have visited his home many times over the years, and his house is always full of people. He has four children of his own but he and Claudaline also gave space to many other children and adults who needed a home,” says Richards.

Anglican Aid is sponsoring 30 students at the Bible College in Goma. The diocese has 45 clergy for its 224 congregations.

Mukanirwa was a member of GAFCON, the Global Anglican Future Conference which represents the conservative majority in the Anglican Communion.

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