Munzihirwa was born in 1926 in Lukumba, located in the northeastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo [DRC]. The name “Munzihirwa” means “leader,” and “Mwene Ngabo” means “son of the people.” His surname of “Muhudumu” means “servant of God” in Kiswahili.
Munzihirwa was a brilliant stand-out during his many years of study, years into which his pastoral ministry was often interwoven. After his general Greco-Latin studies at the minor seminary of Mugeri, he began his theological studies at the major seminary of Nyakubanda in Rwanda but continued them at Moba in the DRC. Upon completion, he was ordained priest for the diocese of Bukavu in 1958. He later became priest and dean of the cathedral parish of Bukavu.
In keeping with the best Jesuit tradition, Munzihirwa was ever focused on his formation. From 1965-66, he pursued his theological studies at the Institut de Philosophie de Saint-Pierre Canisius [St. Peter Canisius Institute for Philosophy] in Kimwenza. From 1967-69 he studied social sciences and economics. Several years later (in 1977), his interest in these areas led him to earn his PhD in sociology.
After finishing his studies, Munzihirwa became vicar of the university parish of Kinshasa where, in a show of solidarity with the students who were forcibly conscripted into the army in 1971, he voluntarily chose to share their lot and enlisted as well. Shortly thereafter, his rise through the Jesuit ranks began. By turns, he was named Vicar Superior of the Jesuit student house at the University of Lubumbashi, then Rector of the St. Peter Canisius Institute for Philosophy in 1978. In 1980, he was named Superior (Provincial) of the Jesuit Province of Central Africa, which included Rwanda, Burundi, and the DRC. [In 1986], he was appointed coadjutor bishop to Monsignor Pirigisha of the Kasongo Diocese. Following this, he became Apostolic Administrator of the Bukavu archdiocese in 1993 and its archbishop in 1994.
The heart of his ministry began in 1994, and it consisted above all in defending the oppressed by striving for peace, justice, and truth. During the last two years of his life, he was deeply involved in the peace process for the Great Lakes region, an area that had been ravaged by civil war.
Monsignor Munzihirwa was a towering figure in the Church’s life in the DRC, and his influence was felt outside of the country’s borders as well. His involvement as a committed Christian serves as a model for all those of the region who seek to serve God. While actively engaged in the area’s peace process, Munzihirwa was assassinated by Rwandan soldiers on October 29, 1996.
César Mateso W. Akeso
Fari, Benjamin et al., “Monseigneur Munzihirwa Mwene Ngabo” in the review, Serviteur et Temoin * [Servant and Witness] (Bukavu: Ed. Loyola, 1977). [Tr. Note: In *Cibles: 235 prêtres africains tués, by P. Neno Contran and Abbé Gilbert Kadjemenje, this work is listed as “Mgr C. Munzihirwa, S.J., Serviteur et Témoin.”, Ed. Loyola, Kinshasa.]
Mugaruka Shota, (Archdiocese of Bukavu), interview by author, January 14, 2003, Bunia.
Burume Kebidu, (family member of Munzihirwa), interview by author, January 14, 2003, Bunia.
This article, received in 2003, is the research work of César Mateso W. Akeso, theology student mentored by Reverend Yossa Way. Reverend Way is a professor of theology and liaison between DIBICA and the Institut Supérieur Théologique Anglican (in Bunia, DRC), as well as the 2001 recipient of the Project Luke grant. Translation from the original French in 2012 by Mrs. Elizabeth Mullen.