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Franciscan Ministry
God’s Loving Mercy Flows from Water Wells in Rural Villages of Central Africa

Children in a village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo take turns washing their hands and face with potable water at a watering station supplied by a well installed through the efforts of Franciscan friars more than 7,500 miles away.

There was a time when adolescent girls in Lukonzolwa, Kilobelobe, and other rural villages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) had about as much chance of seeing the inside of a classroom as their homes had of getting running water. The youngsters, along with adult women, had the job of making the daily, miles-long journey to water sources and filling containers for their villages. The water they collected was often contaminated with disease and pollutants.

But on another continent more than 7,500 miles away, Franciscan friars in St. Louis, Missouri, called attention to the plight of these villages in Africa and raised money that, to date, has funded the 

digging and installation of more than a dozen water wells that provide fresh, clean water for drinking, cooking, and washing.

One of the most recent installations took place in a village where Damien Isabell, OFM – a friar formerly with the Franciscans in the United States, but now a member of the province in Africa and associated with the Franciscan Missionary Union – established an orphanage for homeless and abandoned children.

These young people, who have already been through so much adversity in their lives, no longer have to be concerned about getting malaria and typhoid fever from unsafe drinking water now that they have a well producing potable water.

John Eaton, OFM, said the water project has changed lives, and that the availability of safe water has resulted in health and living condition improvements that will extend to future generations.

“It speaks volumes about the generosity of our supporters who make this ministry of the friars possible. They will never meet the people benefiting from this Franciscan initiative thousands of miles away, yet they are responding to this great need for something most of us take for granted – clean water,” said John, noting that the well project in Africa began as the friars’ response to Pope Francis’ December 2015 Year of Mercy declaration for the

Youngsters playfully take turns drinking fresh, clean water from a garden hose in a rural village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Church. The friars initiated the project with the intention of centering on the corporal work of mercy – give drink to the thirsty.

“Our outreach to God’s people on a continent that faces so many problems (high infant and maternal mortality rates, malnutrition, and lack of basic public services such as sanitation and access to potable water) is saving lives and enabling adolescent girls to attend school and receive an education because they no longer are hauling water all day long,” added John, who said most of the early funding for the project came from the generosity of parishioners at St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Parish in Oakville, Missouri.

Franciscan friars with the province in Africa are grateful to the friars in the U.S. for funding the digging and installation of water wells in rural villages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda. The wells, most of them solar-powered, have reservoir tanks (like the one behind the friars) connected by pipes to central watering stations.

The original plan was to fund two wells, but the friars continued their efforts after the first well was completed in 2017 in the village of Mulenga, and the second shortly thereafter in Kienge. Women and children of Mulenga walked four miles roundtrip every day to find water for their village before the wells were constructed.

Wells have been installed in several other villages, among them Kabinda-Kyolokosa, Kibwe, Luano, and Lubumbashi, the latter the location of the Franciscan formation house, where men study to become friars. All the wells are in the DRC except for two installed about a year ago in Uganda, after a diocesan priest – being hosted by the friars while in the U.S. studying for his doctorate degree at St. Louis University – identified a 

desperate need for potable water. Most of the wells are solar-powered and have reservoir tanks connected by pipes to central watering stations, where village residents joyfully gather to collect clean, sparkling well water.

“Having these wells and potable water in our villages significantly reduces the threat of waterborne diseases. Families no longer have to rely on getting water that’s polluted by waste and agricultural run-off. It also makes life easier for women and children, eliminating the burden of walking many miles for water and dragging containers back to their homes,” said Jean-Marie Mufeji, OFM, a friar with the Franciscan province in Africa who is pastor of a parish of 25 DRC villages and identifies for the friars in the U.S. the many villages that don’t have access to safe water.

“There is still much work to be done,” said Jean-Marie, who oversees the well projects.

The Church’s Year of Mercy ended in December 2016, but the call to live God’s loving mercy and the corporal project in Africa – give drink to the thirsty – remains an ongoing mission of mercy for the Franciscan friars.

Photos courtesy of the Franciscan friars in Africa and the U.S.

Content for this article compiled and written by Steve Mangione.

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