OXFORD, England (CNS) — Church leaders in the Central African Republic appealed for international help in restoring order after a wave of attacks on Catholic clergy and churches.
“Parishes, churches and communities of nuns have been pillaged and ransacked by rebel units, losing their cars and other possessions,” said Msgr. Cyriaque Gbate Doumalo, secretary-general of the Catholic bishops’ conference. “Although the rebels have promised order here in the capital, this has broken down completely in the provinces, where Christians face danger and uncertainty. We appeal to the international community not to forget us, but to help restore peace and security.”
In an April 8 interview with Catholic News Service, the priest said Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga of Bangui would be meeting heads of other Christian denominations to plan a national day of prayer for peace.
However, he added that an interparty Supreme Transitional Council, set up by the rebel forces, had so far failed to stem an active campaign of attacks on churches, rectories and convents.
“From what we can see, this has been organized systematically — although the church has nothing to do with the state, it’s seen as a public institution,” Msgr. Doumalo said. “Security measures have been put in place, but these are not proving effective, since the transitional authorities aren’t controlling the different rebel elements.”
Catholics make up around 30 percent of the 4.4 million inhabitants of the Central African Republic, which is one of the world’s poorest countries, with high child mortality and malnutrition rates.
Insurgent groups calling themselves Seleka (“Alliance”) launched an offensive against the government in early December, accusing President Francois Bozize of reneging on 2007 and 2008 peace deals to share government posts and integrate rebel forces into the national army.
The alliance, composed partly of Arab-speaking Islamists, seized Bangui in late March, suspending the country’s government, parliament and constitution, after the latest agreement collapsed with Bozize, who fled to neighboring Cameroon.
However, at a meeting in Chad April 3, neighboring heads of state refused to recognize Seleka leader Michel Djotodia, who declared himself president and announced a caretaker government March 31.
In his March 31 homily in Bangui’s Catholic cathedral, Archbishop Nzapalainga said Easter celebrations had been disrupted and scheduled for daylight hours because of insecurity, but urged Catholics not to renounce their “Christian values of love, fraternity, respect, justice, tolerance, reconciliation, unity and peace.”
“The current context of our country resembles the primordial chaos which preceded God’s intervention: destruction of the social fabric, displacement of the population, the pillaging of goods, abductions, robberies, generalized panic, exactions, distrust, betrayal, distress, doubt about the future, violence, suspicion, resentment, revenge, terror — in a word, total desolation,” the archbishop said at the Mass, which Djotodia attended.
“However, the biblical text recalls that the breath of God blew over the waters, and God himself intervened to bring order and create harmony through his word,” he said.
U.N. sources said April 5 that 37,000 refugees had left the Central African Republic since the start of Seleka’s rebellion in December, with a further 173,000 internally displaced, adding that the numbers had increased sharply since late March.
Msgr. Doumalo told CNS his church had been invited to send a delegation to the 97-member Transitional Council, which is expected to act as a legislative body, drafting a new constitution for approval in a national referendum and preparing for the election of new president in 2016.
He added that the bishops’ conference was also seeking talks with the provisional government to make its concerns and expectations known and would stress that there were “no quarrels” between Christians and Muslims, who could “rebuild mutual peace and harmony.”
“But reparations must be made for what has been destroyed and stolen, preventing us from doing our work,” Msgr. Doumalo said. “The public institutions are not functioning, and the hospitals have been ransacked and closed, leaving the sick and destitute without care. This is why we urgently need help in restoring and maintaining peace.”