Two Catholic priests were kidnapped by unknown armed men during the night of Sunday 16 July in their parish of Beni-Butembo, in the volatile province of North-Kivu, in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Fides reports.

According to a note sent to Fides by CEPADHO (a local NGO for the protection of human rights), Fr Pierre Akilimali and Fr Charles Kipasa were kidnapped by about ten armed men in camouflage who attacked the parish.

The assailants hit some seminarians who were serving in the parish and stole two cars and two motorcycles used by the priests. The two off-road vehicles were later found near Virunga National Park.

The kidnapping was condemned by the Congolese National Bishops’ Conference (CENCO), which denounced the climate of insecurity in the area.

CENCO called on the security forces “to do everything possible to free the two priests from the hands of kidnappers and dismantle the criminal network that destabilises peace in the region of Beni”.

World Watch Monitor reported in April the concerns of the Catholic Church in DRC.

Attacks attributed to armed groups – including the radical Islamic group Muslim Defense International (MDI), formerly known as the Alliance of Democratic Forces – claimed more than 1,000 lives between October 2014 and May 2016. Another 1,470 people were abducted in that period. In October 2012, three priests – Jean-Pierre Ndulani, Anselme Wasikundi and Edmond Bamutute – were abducted in their parish of Notre-Dame des Pauvres in Mbau, 22km from Beni. So far there has been no news about their whereabouts.

“Priests are God’s men who consecrate their lives for the good of the population, without having a political agenda. Hurting them means harming the whole community they serve,” said Archbishop Marcel Utembi of Kisangani, president of CENCO.