Central African Republic – Catholics reach out to Muslim ex-rebels

Bishops call for peace and reconciliation and offer humanitarian help 

Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

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©Aid to the Church in Need

The Catholic Church in the Central African Republic continues to work for peace and reconciliation within the country. That is why Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga, the president of the bishops’ conference and archbishop of the capital city, Bangui, recently visited a camp where former members of the Seleka Muslim rebel militia are now housed together with their families.

In the last couple of years the fighters of this now dissolved militia group had committed many atrocities, above all against the Christian population of the country. Archbishop Nzapalainga was accompanied during his visit by representatives of Catholic aid agencies, who brought food and hygiene articles into the camp and supplied medical aid.

Speaking during his visit, Archbishop Nzapalainga emphasised that God never turns away anyone who repents of his faults and is willing to return to Him. He said, “Here in this camp there are men, women and children living. For me, as a man of God, they are children of God whom He has created in His image and to whom I am obliged to reach out.”

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©Aid to the Church in Need

He went on to explain that he could not remain inactive in the face of the misery in the camp. “I have therefore appealed to all the Christians of the Catholic Church that it is time to come to the aid of our brothers and sisters. For when we go to church we receive the power of God to help our brethren in need.” The archbishop spoke with the former rebels and listened to their needs. The ex-Seleka fighters were worried about their reintegration into society and about the future of their children. Archbishop Nzapailanga appealed to them not to resort to arms again.

852,000 people are still refugees

Ahead of his visit, in their Advent pastoral letter, the episcopal conference had appealed to Catholics in the Central African Republic to work for reconciliation. “Even if a genuine and lasting peace is a gift of Christ, nonetheless it depends on each one of us also”, they stated.

The bishops also appealed to the government of their country, which is still racked by internal unrest: “We call upon the government, with the help of the international community, to establish security for all its citizens, to fight against impunity, restore the authority of the state and so strengthen the social cohesion, dialogue and peace.” The bishops also expressed their concern at the growing levels of banditry in the country. “The people continue to remain hostage to armed groups”, the bishops wrote.

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The security situation in the Central African Republic remains highly unstable. There are continuing and repeated outbreaks of violence, as for example just recently, in October, when there were clashes between armed militia groups and international troops. According to the UNHCR over 852,000 people are still refugees, forced to flee their homes – a figure that corresponds to one fifth of the total population of the Republic.

In 2015 the transitional president, Catherine Samba-Panza is due to hand over the reins of government to an elected successor. However, observers are now assuming that the elections will not take place in February, as planned, but not until the second half of the year.

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