“Since the Seleka came to Central Africa there’s been nothing but destruction. They simply fleeced us”.
Raquel Martin & Josué Villalón – ACN Spain
Adapted by Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada
What was the past month like?
It was a very hard, chaotic month. People survived because they fled to the Congo. We’re trying to restore some kind of normality by giving people something to hope for. We’ve started doing a few things to organise our lives. Yesterday, for example, we had some confirmations. There is a further glimmer of hope: two days ago members of the military turned up who seemed to be more serious than those who had come before. The new ones were not intent on looting. They were Seleka, but they belonged to a new generation. To date a Libyan had been in command and he spoke neither French nor Sango. The new Seleka arrested this commander and took away his weapons and uniform. They took him with them, probably to send him back to his own country. They’re taking the weapons away from all those who have exploited the rebellion to loot the country.
What did you find when you arrived in your diocese? How were the parishes, the missions and the churches? Was violence used against the Christians?
When I arrived in my diocese I found only chaos. The people were fleeing as best they could. Whole families fled to the Congo. People were executed after summary trials; there were rapes, robbery and the systematic looting of the mission stations. These are proper acts of war. In a village near Bangassou the mission station was completely destroyed as were the houses of the Padres and Sisters. About 400 houses were set fire to and nine people killed. At least 50 % of the goods of the diocese were stolen. They took our vehicles. Now we have to go on foot. I go everywhere on foot with my rucksack. The children’s’ clinic, the internet centre, the pharmacy and the garage were set on fire, as were other administrative buildings of the NGOs and other churches. They attacked Christian denominations and in particular the Catholic Church with considerable ferocity.
Were priests, nuns, catechists … killed?
Thank God no priests, nuns or catechists were murdered. We prayed a lot to the Holy Spirit. Last week the Holy Mass was celebrated to give thanks that we had survived. But outside Bangassou there were summary executions. Adults and children were killed by machine pistol. Since the Seleka came to Central Africa there’s been nothing but destruction. They arrived in the country in December and in April on Palm Sunday they seized the capital. There were about 300 soldiers accompanied by about 3,000 looting mercenaries of other nationalities. They stole cars, radios, solar panels, batteries etc. For the most part they took their loot to Chad, where they sold it on the black market. They simply fleeced us.
It’s said that the new government intends to set up an Islamic republic. Is this suspicion being confirmed in practice?
Up to now it has been confirmed day by day. Recently a public holiday was introduced. We learnt that it was to celebrate Mohammed’s birthday. I think that a change is coming about in the countries bordering on Central Africa. France now understands that it was a big mistake to allow the Seleka to take over the country. I hope that the EU will take a decision in this matter. It’s said that about 2,000 soldiers from six or seven free African countries will be coming to pacify the country. These soldiers would be divided up among the country’s different communities in order to pacify them. They are supposed to stay here until 2016, when a democratic election is to be held to determine who the next President will be. The present President is a Muslim. He’s the one who carried out the coup.
ACN has launched a campaign to get emergency relief for the Central African Republic. What does your diocese need in terms of pastoral and material support?
In terms of pastoral support we need cars and motorcycles so that we can travel to the chapels. As I already said, all our cars and motorcycles were stolen. A few days ago we were in the sisters’ house, which had been completely looted. This is one mission station, but we have six mission stations which were completely looted. We need tables, chairs, mosquito nets, bed sheets, cupboards, plates, knives, lamps, cables, solar panels and batteries. In terms of material support we need powdered milk as well as medicines and drugs for terminally ill AIDS sufferers, antiretrovirals. We need help for the families. They are trying to send the children to school again but there is a need for a lot of school materials, pencils, rulers ….. It’s all gone. We also urgently need an internet link-up because this is our lifeline to the outside world. We found the computers completely destroyed on the floor.
And the churches?
At least three churches were looted and even profaned. First they tried to attack the priests and the sisters, and these had to flee. Then they went into the chapels and stacked the pews up to set fire to them. They then broke open the tabernacle and took the consecrated hosts. So we also need help to restore the churches, the images and the pews. Catholic churches and Protestant chapels made of straw were also set on fire. There is a violent hostility towards the Catholic Church. We must bear up, and with God’s help we will gradually rise again and pull our heads out of the water.
As far as the spiritual side is concerned, how do you manage to keep a firm hold on your faith and how do you strengthen the faith of your believers?
We try to work, speak and pray – and we also try to laugh so that our faith remains firm. With the example of Calvary and following the example of the Apostles. We see how they preach, smile and are satisfied with such courage and how they regard it as an honour to have suffered such blows in the name of Christ. These readings from the vespers give us all much courage. In central Africa what is happening is similar to what happened 2,000 years ago: the resurrection of Christ gave the Apostles courage. When they discovered that He had risen from the dead, when He appeared before them and showed them His hands and side, this gave them a lot of courage. But after the resurrection there remain the wounds of the passion, the suffering and the tribulation.
If we persist in navel-gazing we will end up like the woman from the Gospel whose back was so bent because she only saw herself. The Church must come out of itself and go to the margins of society, as the Pope says. We must realise that the margins are also the church. I would like to communicate the tribulation we are encountering here because the World Church should feel our tribulation in Central Africa as though it were its own. Then we will be one, as is written in the Gospel according to St. John.