central african republic
At a solemn ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica, to elevate 17 new cardinals, Pope Francis, on Nov. 19, delivered a ringing plea to the world, and his own Catholic Church, to reject “the virus of polarization and animosity," and the growing temptation to “demonize” those who are different.
The pontiff’s address came across as a powerful, gospel-based indictment of the populist and nationalist anger roiling countries around the world, displayed most recently by the stunning election of Donald Trump as president of the U.S.
These new cardinals include prelates from 11 dioceses and six countries that have never before had a cardinal, and from places far outside the traditional European orbit of ecclesiastical influence: Albania, for example, plus the Central African Republic, Lesotho, Mauritius, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea.
But the real surprise in these picks, as in past appointments, is that they came as a complete surprise to many of the new cardinals themselves, and to the pope’s closest collaborators.
A senior Roman Catholic bishop in the Central African Republic is warning that the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel force that killed more than 100,000 people in northern Uganda in the 1980s and ’90s, is rising up again in his country. Bishop Nestor Desire Nongo-Aziagbia said the LRA, led by self-declared prophet Joseph Kony, has become one of the biggest threats to peace in his country and in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.
Pope Francis wrapped up his six-day trip to Africa in the war-torn Central Africa Republic on Nov. 30 by warning that religious conflicts are spawning civil war, terrorism, and suffering throughout the continent.
“Together we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, especially violence perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself,” the pope said in Bangui, the capital.
“Together, we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself. God is peace, ‘salaam,’ ” the pope said, using the Arabic word for peace.
Pope Francis’ visit to the Kenyan capital of Nairobi Nov. 25–27 will bring healing and reconciliation to the East African nation that has suffered key setbacks in the recent past, senior bishops here say.
Kenya, a country with 14 million Catholics, recently announced the theme of the papal visit: “Stand firm and be strong.” Organizers expect nearly 1.5 million people to attend the papal Mass on Nov. 26 in Nairobi; there are nearly 4 million Catholics in the Archdiocese of Nairobi.
The pope’s Nov. 25-30 pilgrimage to Africa, also includes travel to Uganda and the Central African Republic. But in remarks Sunday to a crowd of faithful in St. Peter’s Square, Francis raised the possibility that security risks could cause the Central African Republic leg of his trip to change or even be scrapped.
Despite much gloom and doom, there were a few silver linings in the report. Religious freedom and harmony have improved in Cyprus, resulting in greater access to houses of worship across the Green Line separating north from south. Nigeria witnessed its first peaceful democratic transfer of power earlier this year when Muslim northerner Muhammadu Buhari ousted Christian southerner Jonathan Goodluck at the polls. And Sri Lanka’s new government has taken positive steps to promote religious freedom and unity in the face of violent Buddhist nationalism.
Although Congo-Brazzaville has not witnessed violence like neighboring Cameroon, it is now the first country in the region to ban the veils.
In Cameroon, Nigeria’s Boko Haram insurgency has carried out deadly attacks in villages and towns. Female suicide bombers in veils have committed some of Boko Haram’s attacks.
“Muslim women can now only wear the full veil at home and in places of worship, but not in public places,” El Hadj Abdoulaye Djibril Bopaka, the head of Islamic Supreme Council of Congo-Brazzaville told Agence France-Presse.
“Since you are believers, I will speak to you as believers,” the archbishop told us, before explaining how he and his two colleagues — a Muslim imam and an evangelical pastor — have drawn on their faith in order to work for peace and reconciliation in Central African Republic (CAR). “If we want our hearts to be … like the heart of God, we need to learn to love other people, we need to learn to live in peace with them and to take them in. This is the only way we will be true children of God."
When the Seleka, a loose coalition of predominantly Muslim rebels, overturned CAR’s government in 2013, the anti-balaka, a loose coalition of predominantly Christian fighters, began to retaliate. At face value, the conflict seemed to be a religious one, event though Christians and Muslims in CAR have co-existed in relative peace for much of its 50-year history. Yet the twin forces of political instability and lack of economic opportunity have created an environment in which militias and rebel groups can prey upon young, unemployed men who see no hope for a future unless they fight for it.
Despite the chaos and conflict that have raged throughout CAR since March 2013, Dieudonné Nzapalainga, the Catholic Archbishop of Bangui, Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, President of the Central African Islamic Community, and Rev. Nicolas Guérékoyame-Gbangou, President of the Evangelical Alliance of the Central African Republic, have united to teach their flocks what it means to be “true children of God.” As news reports have focused on the violence and displacement of some 800,000 Central African Republicans, these three faith leaders have instead focused more deeply on what their faith traditions tell them is true. And that faith has propelled them to seek peace and reconciliation in their war-torn country.
For their work, the three leaders were jointly listed among TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in April and received an award from Search for Common Ground last week.
“When politicians wanted to use the religious fibers to divide the people, whether to maintain power or to conquer it, we stood up as if we were a single man to say ‘non’ to this war and ‘yes’ to peace,” the archbishop said in his acceptance speech.
As the number of Muslims in Bangui, the Central African Republic capital, dwindles to an estimated 900, the head of a global alliance of churches has urged tackling the conflict from a political rather than a religious angle if the Muslim exodus is to be reversed.
The alliance is one of the agencies providing humanitarian assistance in the country, where chaos erupted last year after the mainly Muslim rebels toppled the government.
The Seleka rebels looted, raped, and killed mainly Christian civilians, prompting the formation of an equally brutal pro-Christian anti-Balaka (anti-machete) militia.
Churches in Central African Republic are caring for thousands of Muslims who have been trapped in a cycle of revenge attacks, perpetrated by a pro-Christian militia.
Since December, Anti-Balaka militias have been emptying Muslim quarters and avenging earlier attacks by the Seleka, an Islamist militia. The Seleka rampaged through the country in early 2013, terrorizing Christians and ransacking churches, hospitals, and shops.
Now that the Muslim president Michel Djotodia has stepped down, Seleka is being forced to withdraw from its strongholds, as the center of power shifts, amid a mass exodus and displacement of Muslims.
African religious leaders are appealing for an end to violence against Muslims in the Central African Republic as thousands flee to neighboring Chad and Cameroon.
In recent weeks, a pro-Christian militia known as anti-Balaka (or anti-machete) has killed and mutilated Muslims as they have tried to leave the capital Bangui by the truckload.
Muslims had enjoyed some protection when Michel Djotodia, the country’s first interim Muslim president, was in power. Djotodia resigned under pressure in January and Catherine Samba-Panza was appointed the interim president.
This weekend we’ll commemorate the too-short life and great work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While we rightly celebrate his life dedicated to advancing equality for all, too often we overlook his call to peacemaking. This year, in light of conflicts in Syria, South Sudan, and an often-overlooked war in Central African Republic, we should remember his words.
In his 1967 speech, “Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence,” King opposed the violence, saying:
"To me the relationship of this ministry [of Jesus Christ] to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I'm speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all men — for Communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative?"
Those aware of our long history at Sojourners know that we have always been committed to peace, to opposing unjust wars and finding nonviolent solutions wherever possible. And in all the work we do, we aim to speak out for the least of these, the poorest and most vulnerable.
After months of violence in the Central African Republic, signs of hope emerged following Friday’s esignation of interim President Michel Djotodia and Prime Minister Nicholas Tiengaye.
But Roman Catholic Archbishop Nestor Desire Nongo-Aziagbia of Bossangoa said that although guns had gone silent, the crisis was far from over.
“The shooting has ceased, but the tensions are still there,” Nongo-Aziagbia said Monday. “Resignation is a first step towards solving the crisis.”
The resignations at a regional summit in neighboring Chad sparked wild celebrations among Christians in the capital, Bangui. The president was a Muslim.
Two French soldiers died as a wave of deadly revenge attacks involving rival Christian and Muslim groups has left the Central African Republic in chaos.
But a Roman Catholic archbishop said the fighting pitting the two groups is not about religion, but rather politics and power.
“The religious leaders warned against this risk” of religious conflict, said Nestor Desire Nongo-Aziagbia of Bossangoa in a telephone interview. “Political leaders have not paid attention to these warnings. They wanted to antagonize the Central African Republic along religious lines in order to remain in power.”