Father Alfredo Neres is Portuguese. He has spent more than 34 years in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“ As soon as I arrived in the Congo, I took on the task of accompanying the villages on the savannah where the most abandoned people live. A whole year may go by without people being able to go to confession or assist at Mass. In all these years, I have always wanted to experience the joy of going to meet and visit our Christians in the savannah.”
“I remember going to visit a chapel in Ango mission, 198 km from the centre, often pushing my loaded bicycle up the hills. My visits to those villages created a new atmosphere. I would proclaim the Word of God, hear confessions, celebrate Mass and spend days with the people. Sometimes I would stay in the forest for three weeks before returning to the parish tired and in need of a wash but with overflowing joy.”, Father Alfredo recounts.
The missionary continues: “In my missionary work, I have always emphasised the work of evangelisation, giving priority to the training of pastoral agents according to the Comboni motto of ‘Saving Africa with Africa’. The second strong point is the Eucharist, helping people to live deeply the Eucharist in their towns and villages. In third place, I consider the Sacrament of Reconciliation as fundamental as it shows the love of God through forgiveness and closeness”.
Father Alfredo recalls: “At first, there were not many priests in our dioceses in the Congo and the work involved especially the preparation of catechumens for baptism. Many baptisms and confirmations were administered to lead people to Christian maturity. When I was an episcopal vicar in Bondo, the Bishop charged me with erecting three new parishes in the diocese, each a long way from the other (Monga, Ango and Dakwa). I stayed for two months in each parish to ensure the conditions for their establishment.”
An event he experienced changed his life. “In December 1981, my priestly, religious and missionary life was turned upside down. While I was in Rome doing a course, I took part in a meeting of Charismatic renewal. During the prayer for the outpouring of the Spirit, I received a gift from the Holy Spirit, the gift of healing people’s diseases and liberating them.”
When he returned to the DR Congo, Father Alfredo devoted himself to his new ministry. He was chosen by the Bishop of Bondo as the diocesan exorcist and he has exercised this ministry for twenty years. “I like these two activities very much: healing people and liberating them from the power of witchcraft, from magic and their evil chains.”
The missionary continues with his memories of his missionary life. “The most impressive memories concern the seven years (dal 1996 al 2003) of war he spent at Ango and Bondo. When the soldiers of Mobutu, on the one hand, and those of Bemba and Kabila senior, on the other, clashed, the rifle shots and rockets struck the village and our houses. The soldiers ransacked the houses and the church.”
“They even thought we kept money hidden in the tabernacle. To avoid something worse, I left the tabernacle open and empty. I took the Blessed Sacrament to my room where I had set up a well-cared-for altar. One night, from 18:00 to 5:00, the battle raged with thousands of shots being fired and the forest set alight. The volleys of fire from the tanks passed above the house and exploded somewhere else. All night long I lay on the floor gazing at the Blessed Sacrament. I kept very quiet, of course, and told Our Lord that it would be nice for us both to be buried together and go to heaven together. His presence would have ensured my admittance. In those moments, I experienced the presence of Christ very strongly. At other times, when we took refuge in the forest, I would take the Blessed Sacrament in my satchel and it was always a source of immense joy for me. His presence among us gave us surprising strength and courage.”
Father Alfredo concludes: “As I look back over my 34 years of missionary life in this land, I feel overcome by joy for the life I have lived. In moments of trials and sorrows, they give me peace and joy in my heart. I have been called to pass on, to give, to share and bring this joy to life in the people Our Lord allows me to meet.”