“The future of the children of our Country is uncertain and very gloomy… girls and boys are exposed to all forms of violence, including sexual abuse of all sorts and forced enlistment in armed groups…”
– Bishops of Central African Republic
Catholic bishops in the Central African Republic (CAR) have condemned a recent upsurge of violence in the country, including the attempted assassination of a Catholic priest, Father Blaise Bissialo. They have called on armed groups to lay down their weapons.
Fighting between rival armed groups erupted in the north-western town of Paoua and its surroundings at the end of December, while in the eastern town of Bangassou, Fr. Bissialo was attacked. Last year Fr. Bissialo was credited with saving the lives of 1500 Muslims who took shelter in his church. (For details, click here)
Two ex-Seleka rebel groups – the RJ (Revolution Justice) and the MPC (le Mouvement Patriotique Centrafricain) – are fighting for control of the region’s lucrative natural resources.
The violence broke out on 27 December 2017 and tensions remain high, with fresh clashes reported on Sunday (14 January).
The violence has claimed more than 100 lives, according to local MPs, and has resulted in a humanitarian crisis.
Some 60,000 people have been displaced, while 15,000 others have fled to neighbouring Chad, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in CAR.
“The painful events which occurred in recent days in some of our prefectures … make us think that our country continues to sink into the abyss,” noted the bishops in a statement issued by the Episcopal conference on Sunday, titled ‘Hope and despair for our country’.
“Armed packs still create anarchy and impose their laws on a tired civilian population, who don’t know where their salvation will come from. In our dioceses we are witnessing on a daily basis this sad reality and deplore the fact that our country is always under the influence of bravado and intrusions of armed militias who do not want the war to stop.”
In a Message released at the end of their Plenary Assembly in Bangui [14 January 2018], the Bishops of the Central African Republic pose the question, “What is the hope for our Country at the beginning of this year?”
This is a legitimate question given the dramatic situation of the country that emerged during the course of the meeting. The Bishops highlighted a dramatic picture of the conditions of security, while recognizing “efforts to consolidate peace at a national level with the beginning of the reestablishment of the State Authority, through the appointment of Prefects and Under Prefects”.
Father Alain Blaise Bissialo, a priest at Christ-King Parish of Tokoyo, in the diocese of Bangassou (East), was stabbed by unknown armed men on 4 January.
“The aggression was carried out by eight hooded men, at about 10pm,” José Aguiré, the Archbishop of Bangassou, informed the media. “He was bleeding heavily when he was found by other priests, who took him to the hospital.”
Fr. Bissialo was then transferred to Bangui, the capital, for further treatment. “His injuries were not life threatening but he still has difficulty talking and remembering facts,” said Msgr. Aguiré, who also expressed his dismay.
According to Fr. Martin Modoué, a fellow priest at Christ-King Parish, Father Bissialo “spoke a truth” at a public meeting on 30 December, which could have upset many people “who do not like peace”.
“He denounced the impunity that reigns in the Mbomou [prefecture] and asked the MINUSCA [UN peacekeepers] to open their eyes and find the perpetrators of crimes perpetrated in the region,” Fr. Modoué recalled.
Three days after the attack on Fr. Bissialo, four armed men burst into the premises of St. Peter Claver Cathedral in Bangassou during the night. They stole valuables, including a television set.
Into the abyss
In reaction, the Episcopal conference condemned the “cowardly and criminal” attack on Fr. Bissialo and “all attempts to intimidate pastoral agents”.
In a message sent to the Fides News Agency at the Vatican on 18 January 2018 – the Conference of Bishops in CAR declared “the painful events that occurred in recent times in some prefectures such as Haut-Mbomou, Mbomou, Haute-Kotto, Basse-Kotto, Ouaka, Nana-Gribizi, Ouham, Ouham -Pendé and Nana-Mambéré, lead us to believe that our Country continues to sink into the abyss”.
“Armed groups always create anarchy and impose their laws on exhausted civilians who no longer know from where their help will come. In our dioceses we are daily witnesses of this sad reality and deplore the fact that our Country is always under the grip of arrogance and intrusion of armed militias who do not want the war to stop”.
“The armed gangs are still engaged in raids and massacres, rape and racket of civilian populations. Villages are looted and burned. Inhabitants are tortured and shamelessly killed”, the Bishops denounce.
A mission of UN Blue Helmets, MINUSCA, has been present in Central Africa for years to help local authorities restore safety conditions. But the Bishops complain “the slowness and inaction of some MINUSCA contingents in maintaining peace”, to the point that “the local populations ardently desire the deployment of the Central African security forces”.
Insecurity and the sense of abandonment on behalf of the State translates into the lack of health and educational facilities. Young people are those who pay a high price to the point that the Bishops say that “the future of the children of our Country is uncertain and very gloomy… girls and boys are exposed to all forms of violence, including sexual abuse of all sorts and forced enlistment in armed groups”. And the Church has not been exempt from attacks and persecutions. These include “the cowardly and criminal aggression on Father Blaise Bissialo in the parish of Christ of Tokoyo in Bangassou and the attempts of intimidation of pastoral agents”.
The Episcopal Conference calls on the international community to “continue to accompany and support the peace process in Central Africa” and to the NGO “to move from the emergency phase to the recovery and development phase”, while it launches an urgent appeal to armed groups so that “In the name of God they lay down their weapons and put an end to the crimes and sufferings of our compatriots, to the plunder of natural resources and to the dysfunction of the State”
The Bishops concluded their statement by reminding the people of Central Africa “that security is above all a commitment and a personal, community and national attitude through words, acts and patriotic behavior (a rejection of hatred and a movement towards respect, unity, dignity).
Editor’s Note: Africa is the area of the world that has seen the greatest growth in the number of Catholics.
Out of 7 billion people on the planet, Catholics make up 1.254 billion, 17.7% of the world population: the number of people that have been baptized typically increases in many parts of the missionary territories. The strongest increase is registered in Africa. In 2005 there were 153 million Catholics in Africa and in 2013 they had reached 206 million, a +34% increase. In the Americas the number of Catholics grew by +10.5%, in Asia (where the Catholic population is larger) by +17.4%. The countries visited by Pope Francis during his first visit to Africa in 2015 have very consistent numbers of Catholics: 13.8 million in Kenya and nearly 18 million in Uganda, where they are the majority by far, and 1.7 million in the Central African Republic, nearly 40% of the population.
Pope Francis visits Saint Sauveur’s refugee camp in Bangui, CAR, November 2015