Goma, North Kivu capital in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), prepares for Easter. While the army keeps fighting dozens of rebel groups in the region with UN support, this city is still recovering from the recently defeated M-23.
Seraphin Choir prepares for Sunday Palm, a day that symbolizes the arrival of Jesus Christ to Jerusalem. A time for celebration. This day will mark the beginning of Easter and the opportunity for these men and women to perform in front of hundreds of people at Goma´s cathedral. One of Goma many choirs, Seraphin´s join forces with St Joseph´s whose members are older. For over two weeks, they rehearse almost daily to prepare for one of the most important days in Christian calendar. It´s a time of joy for a population that has suffered for so many years. Its members have found in singing not only a place to embody their faith but also a place of peace and discipline. Their rehearsals can go up to 4 hours every day and attention to detail is mandatory. Paterne Bandeke, Seraphin´s director and choirmaster since its creation in 2006, supervises every section with an inquisitive ear, detecting every flaw that would go unnoticed for the inexperienced ear. Discipline, passion and hard work pays off during this time of year allowing their members to express their faith in a beautiful way in front of hundreds of people.
Eastern Congo has been decades suffering its own Via Crucis and the members of these choirs are not exempt. The Rwandan genocide in 1994 set the foundations for the two wars (1996-1997 and 1998-2002) that would tear apart this country within 6 years, making it to this day the deadliest conflict since World War II. From 1996 until 2002 DRC was the battlefield where several neighboring countries -including Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbawe and Angola- fought for security concerns while looting the country from its precious resources. In 2002 Joseph Kabila, the son of recently assassinated president Laurent Kabila, signed in Pretoria the Global and All-Inclusive Agreement which on Paper marked the end of the Second Congo War (1998-2002). While foreign countries retired, dozens of armed groups born during the war kept killing and raping civilians to this day.
Seraphin´s Choir had to split during the take of Goma by the M-23 on November 2011. Those who could afford it ran away south to Bukavu (South Kivu) or the neighboring Rwanda, while the others had to stay. Paterne saw FARDC (Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo) soldiers drop their weapons in front of his doorstep and run away while M-23 soldiers took Goma. Dominique Briego, the sound technician, couldn´t run away because of a bike accident. During his recovery, choristers came by often to support him and make sure he was fine. André Buke, the organist, lost his faith during the M-23 rebellion and blamed god for what was happening. However that faith was recovered when he escaped bomb shelling in two separate occasions. The choir taught him to forgive and to be thankful.
The defeat of M-23 and new leadership among Congolese Army has given people hope but resurrection still seems far away. In the meantime, Goma´s Choristers will celebrate Easter like always: with pride and joy.