Given the dramatic situation known to Central-Africa for more than a year now, and by way of solidarity with its populace, we are continuing today with a series of articles which will enable you to accompany the people of this country, currently at the heart of an unspeakable conflict: a war which recalls the extreme violence of a certain Rwandese genocide, one which we underscore this year with the sad 20th anniversary of the tragedy. How can this tragedy be forgotten? And nonetheless…
If the lines that you are reading are often stained with suffering, you will also see that they contain love stories which allow for transcendence. You will encounter men and women capable of acts of such beauty and of such solicitude, that you will recognize in them, propagators of hope which help us believe that life – is more powerful than death.
“The Km5 came to me!”
Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada
Translated and adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada
And yet, at the heart of this drama, lives an event whose love story is worthy of being told around the entire world so as to bring hope – even where unity reigns within disorder; where the celebration of a Mass echoes the sound of gunfire; where the faithful sing so loud that the sounds of rebellion fall into the depths of the Word; and where love gives birth, showing that it is more powerful than is war.
Chronicle of a love story
On December 5, 2013, as he was preparing breakfast, Father Frederico Trinchero, prior of the Carmes brothers in the Bangui monastery, was ‘disturbed’ by some un-awaited guests. “Suddenly, 2000 people were waiting at our door,” he declared to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) only a few days later, when speaking about the crowd who came to find refuge in the convent where they were welcomed with ‘open arms’ by eleven brothers. They hoped they would be protected from the danger caused by the massacres which took place not very far from there.
How did the brothers arrive at finding enough provisions to face this situation? “If Jesus did it, we can also do it!” thought the prior, inspired by the miracle of the multiplication of bread. Close to 50 days later, not only are the 2000 “guests” still there and very much alive, but so are the 8,000 who followed on December 20, as very violent clashes had provoked the arrival of a this new wave.
A live ‘crèche’…
It was during the celebration of a Mass with shots echoing in the background, during which the faithful sang so loud that the noise of rebellion fell into the deep of the Word, that the new arrivals, arrived. This improvised refugee camp, in no time at all, was reorganized into a system of zones, each one directed by what could be called a ‘village chief’ who would be responsible for the distribution of goods. This African approach worked so well because of its simplicity, that the prior’s rigour overcame his cold, and so demonstrating that Life surpasses death.
Add to that the births which quietly increased the number of lodgers. For, along with Christmas came four newborns. The Carmes came to realize that their convent had been transformed into a living crèche where the Child-Jesus was arriving multiple times over.
Since, however, the war made itself known again though its gunshots, its dead, the pillaging and the attacks in numerous neighbourhoods, some of which were very close to the convent. While waiting for better days and a more stable sense of peace, the refugees preferred to stay. “Stay here, for this is a form of passive protest to ask for lasting peace, not temporary,” said Brother Frederico to the people. According to the last estimates, one million people, 20% of whom are Central African, are currently refugees.
… Becoming a miniature Central Africa
“In our refugee camp,” continues brother Federico, “life goes on somewhat normally… if we can consider normal life being thousands of people gathered around a convent.” And the little crèche became somewhat of a miniature Central Africa “along with all its vices and virtues… this co-habitation allowed me to better know the former and to better appreciate the latter.” They also agreed on a kind of code of ethics, which would better help them live together during the day, and rest a little more soundly at night.
In this miniature country, the people created a market for vegetables, meat and commodities of all kinds which surrounded the convent; a hair dressing salon, a small pharmacy, a sewing workshop, stores selling religious articles; a lottery and a popular bistro. The prior recalls, amused, “My predecessor liked going to the famous Km5, the most well-stocked market in Bangui to do his groceries. I can say I am very fortunate, because the Km5 came to me!”
And, Brother Federico concluded list of services available by speaking of their hospital in these terms: “Our little country hospital is in full operation and without committing the sin of pride, let us just say it is our ‘jewel’. With four young doctors, four nurses (including Sister Renata who must walk an hour every day to reach it) and other assistants – we can do hundreds of consultations per day and numerous interventions during the night. The medications, which are kept safely in my room, are dispensed free of charge by an organization. I could have imagined anything in my life other than becoming the director of a hospital, which was set up in a flash in my convent.”
Now, with the presence of Pietro and Father Anastasio who came to lend a strong hand to this “new society,” Brother Federico can breathe a little easier. The prior said of Pietro: “He is the same age as me and he works with a great deal of competence and passion for the International Red Cross.” Whereas his praises are such, of Father Anastasio, that we will let him tell you himself about this man in our final article of this series dedicated to Central Africa.
Finally, with a sense of humour in the face of all challenges, Brother Federico concludes by saying, “We have learned that amidst the hundred thousand displaced at the airport, a newborn was named ‘François Hollande’. As you can see, everyone has their Saint, Patron or rather, we don’t know anymore to which Saint we should devote ourselves!
Coming up tomorrow:
“Christians and Muslims: One blood, one language, one country.”
by José Carlos Rodríguez Soto / María Lozano