By Eva Maria Kollman, ACN International
Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada
Montreal, September 30, 2013 – Following the attacks on a Carmelite priest a few days ago, the mission station of the Sacred Heart Fathers of Bétharram (Bétharramites) in Bouar in the north of the Central African Republic was the victim of a severe assault by Séléka rebels on Friday night.
According to information from the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Italian missionary Father Beniamino Gusmeroli and the locally-born deacon Brother Martial Mengue were threatened with Kalashnikovs, tied up and gagged with adhesive tape. The five armed men, who evidently came from Sudan, stole money, cameras, computers, documents and further items, and ransacked the rooms of the mission station. When they went away, the rebels took Brother Martial Mengue as a hostage but released him some hours later. In view of the further deterioration in the situation, Father Piero Trameri, the mission procurator of the Sacred Heart Fathers, demanded the “speedy and determined intervention of the international community”. The Bétharram Fathers devote themselves in particular to pastoral care, the people’s mission and education. Mission stations and ecclesiastical facilities are a favourite target for attack by the rebels.
The Italian Carmelite priest Father Aurelio Gazzera, who works in Bozoum, also hopes that the international community will react: “Central Africa is one of the subjects presently under discussion at the UNO General Assembly. We hope that it will bring concrete results, because the situation is continuing to deteriorate. As well as the fighting that took place in recent weeks in Bossangoa and drove 30,000 people to flight, last week the Séléka rebels killed two people and burned down 206 houses in the village of Herba, which lies 70 kilometres from the road to Bocaranga.”
In the past two weeks, clashes between the former Séléka and other armed groups in Ouham Pende Prefecture alone have resulted in more than 170,000 refugees. In the Central African Republic, according to the United Nations, 400,000 out of a population of nearly 5 million are in flight.