Plea From Bishops of Central African Republic: Let Us Rebuild Together in Peace

“While the world was celebrating Christmas, we were spending our time killing one another”

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Here is a Jan. 8 message from the bishops of Central African Republic:

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On the threshold of this new year 2014, we, the bishops of Central Africa offer our wishes of peace and long life to all the people of the Central African Republic, despite the difficult situation our country is going through. To the French, Congolese and Chadian governments, to the families of the soldiers who have fallen in this land for our liberation, and for all our compatriots who have lost loved ones, we offer our sincere condolences.

« Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will” (Lk 2:14).

Such was the song of thanksgiving of the angels who announced to the shepherds the birth of the Son of God, who took flesh from our flesh. He has espoused our human condition, with the exception of our sin. The event of the Nativity celebrates the birth of the Prince of Peace, the one who frees man from his fears, restores his confidence and allows him to live in harmony with his brothers and sisters. Christmas is a day of joy and peace! Sadly, we have made of it a day of tears and mourning. While the world was celebrating this happy event, we were spending our time killing one another. The people of Bossangoa, Bouar, Bozoum, Gaga and Bangui have been particularly traumatised by this fratricidal violence. How did we manage to arrive at this human degradation?

 1.     A military and political crisis that has destroyed our social cohesion

Certain demands of a social and political nature have led some Central Africans to resort to armed rebellion. The rapid advance of the Seleka coalition forced the ousted president to flee and led in consequence to a change of government. This movement was led to a great extent by Chadian and Sudanese mercenaries and young unemployed men, enlisted progressively during the advance of the Seleka forces, who committed numerous outrages (thefts, rape, looting, violence, murder…) against the civilian population. They have destroyed the administrative and economic system of the country and, in a word, the life of the nation, by destabilising its social cohesion. Human rights were trampled underfoot.

The disintegration of the state and the silent complicity of our rulers, of the political class, together with the slowness of the response by the international community have together driven those who felt themselves to be the victims of this system to take the law into their own hands and organise into self-defence movements in order to protect what was left to them. This was the reactivation of a phenomenon that is not new. For in fact the anti-balaka, who are known by various different names, actually first appeared on the national scene in the 1990s in order to fight against the highway robbers unfortunately known by the name of zaraguinas. In the north-west, more particularly, they have always been active in the struggle against the Mbarara and the Houda, those heavily armed cattle herders of Chadian origin who do not respect the transhumance corridors, but steal the cattle of the peasants and the Peulhs of Central Africa, and graze their own herds in the fields of the peasants.

In the present conflict between the Seleka and the anti-balaka we have slipped into a cycle of reprisals and counter-reprisals in which the civilian population is held hostage. We condemn all this violence, regardless of its origin.

Moreover, we do not accept the generalizations which present the anti-balaka as a Christian militia. For in fact the anti-balaka are the expression of the patience finally snapping of a section of the population, mostly made up of young people, in the face of the numerous outrages committed by the rebels of the seleka. At all events, we reiterate that all the anti-balaka are not Christians and that all the Christians are not anti-balaka. It is the same thing with the ex-Seleka and the Muslims. The inaccurate language which equates the anti-balaka with a Christian militia has to be corrected. This generalisation, propagated by the national and international media, leads people to attribute a sectarian character to a crisis that is above all political and military.

2.     Gratitude to the international community

Plunged as we are into an unprecedented crisis, we have realized our limitations and our inability to get out of it by ourselves. Thanks to the agreement of the international community, and in continuity with the work of FOMAC (Force Multinationale de l’Afrique Centrale), the adoption of Resolution 2127 (2013) by the UN Security Council in regard to the Central African Republic has made it possible to deploy the international mission MISCA (Mission Internationale de Soutien à la Centrafrique) with the support of the operation SANGARIS. We express the gratitude of the Central African people towards these brothers and sisters of ours who have committed themselves at the risk of their lives to re-establish for us the conditions for coexistence in tranquillity and serenity. We salute the professionalism of these forces, who have engaged themselves to re-establish public security and good order in a country where the State is failing and where the intercommunal tensions represent a real threat to its social cohesion.

We recognize that this mission to re-establish peace and security in Central Africa is a difficult one. Nevertheless, certain incidents have sufficiently clearly shown the equivocal nature of the involvement of Chadian troops in this international force. We also ask that some light should be shed on this subject and the appropriate consequences drawn. Because, for more than a decade now, the military and political relations between Chad and the RCA have led the people of Central Africa to mistrust the Chadian army and to regard it as a threat.

3.     Our responsibility as Christians and citizens

We rejoice in the concern shown by the international community for our situation. We are benefiting from the humanitarian concern of those who are braving danger and insecurity in order to come to the aid of our uprooted brothers and sisters. Important as this assistance is, however, the resolution of the crisis will not be achieved without the people of Central Africa. It is therefore important that he each individual shouldered his own share of responsibility in this crisis which has plunged our country into chaos and caused us to become antagonists towards one another.

Political gameplaying and the desire to safeguard certain people’s own selfish interests have emptied our society of its human values and of respect for the individual, created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:26). As Christians we are called to reflect the light of God in our political, economic and social interactions. It is likewise in this sense that Pope Francis, in his encyclical Lumen fidei (No. 51), exhorts us to return to the essentials of the faith that characterises us:

«Precisely because it is linked to love (cf. Gal 5:6), the light of faith is concretely placed at the service of justice, law and peace. Faith is born of an encounter with God’s primordial love, wherein the meaning and goodness of our life become evident; our life is illumined to the extent that it enters into the space opened by that love, to the extent that it becomes, in other words, a path and praxis leading to the fullness of love. The light of faith is capable of enhancing the richness of human relations, their ability to endure, to be trustworthy, to enrich our life together. Faith does not draw us away from the world or prove irrelevant to the concrete concerns of the men and women of our time. Without a
love which is trustworthy, nothing could truly keep men and women united. Human unity would be conceivable only on the basis of utility, on a calculus of conflicting interests or on fear, but not on the goodness of living together, not on the joy which the mere presence of others can give. Faith makes us appreciate the architecture of human relationships because it grasps their ultimate foundation and definitive destiny in God, in his love, and thus sheds light on the art of building; as such it becomes a service to the common good. Faith is truly a good for everyone; it is a common good. Its light does not simply brighten the interior of the Church, nor does it serve solely to build an eternal city in the hereafter; it helps us build our societies in such a way that they can journey towards a future of hope.»

Our faith commits us to be at the heart of the battle for life and the promotion of human dignity. What are we doing with it at this moment of crisis? The temptation to seek vengeance is great. Muslims, rightly or wrongly accused of being accomplices of the seleka, have been delivered up to mob justice and executed without reason. Let us remember that life is sacred: “Thou shalt not kill” (Dt 5:17). Let justice be done according to the principles of the law.

4.     The struggle for human advancement and social cohesion

We present a deplorable picture of ourselves and of our country. We seem to be content to destroy what little infrastructure we still have left. The result is devastating. The country is laid low, like the rotten fruit that blankets the soil in our villages, while our people are scattered, wandering through the bush like wild animals. Far from the claims about the cementing of national unity, reinforcing social cohesion and good governance and the just distribution of the national wealth that were bandied about by the seleka coalition, in justification of the seizure of power, the country has instead been plunged into desolation. The roads are no longer maintained, the hospitals are destroyed or left devoid of medication and medical personnel. Those living with HIV AIDS no longer have access to the necessary drugs. The schools no longer exist. Now we are on our way towards a second lost year. Are we even aware of the children of schoolgoing age whom we are sacrificing on the altar of this crisis? The government administration is non-existent, the state employees are on strike and the young are unemployed. There is no sign of progress. There is no longer any guarantee of respect for the individual in his physical integrity and the protection of his goods. Killing has become a routine and anodyne action. We are sinking into a “culture of violence and death”.

Above all, let us not delude ourselves. The fratricidal violence is making us still more vulnerable. It limits, not to say destroys, the impact of the investments that have been made for the development of our country. To opt for violence and self-destruction is to choose the wrong battle. The essential issue lies elsewhere. The true battle is that of development, of relaunching the economy and the struggle against poverty, destitution and impunity. The challenges to be tackled are enormous in the areas of education, health care, habitat, food, protection and security, infrastructure of various kinds. In essence we need to give back to the people of Central Africa their dignity as daughters and sons of this nation that we have inherited from our ancestors. The government too must assume its responsibilities before the nation and before history. The simple truth is that one cannot govern a nation through trickery, manipulation and lies.

5.     The promotion of national unity

Our present behaviour is an utter discredit to the values of unity, dignity and work on which our nation of Central Africa is founded. National unity, as conceived by Barthélemy Boganda, was inscribed in his pan-African project of a United States of Africa, and we still jealously guard its flag with its four horizontal bands, crossed by another vertical band and adorned with a star. The different coloured bands represent each of the constitutive nations of this federation and their specific quality: blue for the Congo and its ocean, white for Chad and its cotton, green for Gabon and its forests, gold for our country, once known as Oubangui-Chari, and its mineral riches, and red for the blood uniting all these people marching towards the star of emancipation. It is quite evident that xenophobia has no place in such a project. Let us be on our guard that this crisis does not harden our hearts against our brothers and sisters and make us question the advantages of the spirit of welcoming and hospitality for which our country is renowned. It is heartbreaking to see our brothers and sisters departing in droves, who have been settled for decades here in Central Africa and who have contributed to the development of our country. It is equally discouraging to hear some of our countrymen speaking of the partition of the Central African Republic.

6.     Fraternity

Through the promotion of unity and the spirit of welcome and hospitality we become involved in the practical dimension of fraternity as the foundation and pathway to peace – as we were so well reminded by Pope Francis in his message for the 47thWorld Day of Peace. Beyond the obstacles that stand in the way of the fulfilment of this fraterntiy, and the discovery of ways of surmounting them, “it is of primary importance to let oneself be led by knowledge of God’s plan, which is presented in an eminent way in sacred Scripture”. So we come to recognise the other as a brother or sister, despite the differences that distinguish him or her from us. Far from being an obstacle to coexistence, such differences instead constitute a richness. This is how the Pope forcefully draws out the implications of our commitment to follow Christ:

« All who accept the life of Christ and live in him acknowledge God as Father and give themselves completely to him, loving him above all things. The reconciled person sees in God the Father of all, and, as a consequence, is spurred on to live a life of fraternity open to all. In Christ, the other is welcomed and loved as a son or daughter of God, as a brother or sister, not as a stranger, much less as a rival or even an enemy. In God’s family, where all are sons and daughters of the same Father, and, because they are grafted to Christ, sons and daughters in the Son, there are no “disposable lives”. All men and women enjoy an equal and inviolable dignity. All are loved by God. All have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, who died on the Cross and rose for all. This is the reason why no one can remain indifferent before the lot of our brothers and sisters.» (n°3).

From the perspective of such a spirit of fraternity, once accepted, the responsibility of every Central African man and woman is clear. Not everything can be done for us by the international community.

7.     Forgiveness as a healing process

A crisis is a process that can lead to growth, to an integral human flowering and development of man. It is from this perspective that, without underestimating the conflicts, the sovereign Pontiff Francis, in his encyclical Lumen Fidei (No. 55) exhorts us to make it an occasion of progress and unity:

«Faith likewise offers the possibility of forgiveness, which so often demands time and effort, patience and commitment. Forgiveness is possible once we discover that goodness is always prior to and more powerful than evil, and that the word with which God affirms our life is deeper than our every denial. From a purely anthropological standpoint, unity is superior to conflict; rather than avoiding conflict, we need to confront it in an effort to resolve and move beyond it, to make it a link in a chain, as part of a progress towards unity».

The insistence on the need for forgiveness is explained in the light of the Gospel commands. For in fact Je
sus goes beyond the restrictions which men seek to impose and proposes to us an unconditional and unlimited forgiveness (Mt 18:21-22; Mt 5:38-42). Moreover, it is the attitude he recommends to his disciples. Just as they have their debts fully remitted by God, so they too must behave with regard to those indebted to them (Mt 6:12). Forgiveness does not exclude justice. But it does give each person the chance to rebuild himself, despite the numerous wounds that have marked the painful history of his life.

8.     Some proposals for a way out of the crisis

We are all in agreement that we used to live in mutual harmony, notwithstanding our differing political, philosophical and religious convictions. Nevertheless, this social cohesion has been subjected to a severe test by the crisis, which has sown hatred and division among us. It is more than ever imperative that we commit ourselves to recreating the conditions of harmonious coexistence, in the interests of each one of us and of our beloved nation, by taking courageous measures, with the help of the international community:

Respect for the other, in his physical integrity and in the protection of his goods;The re-founding of public security through the urgent re-establishment of a Republican Army, trained and equipped to be able to guarantee the security of the national territory and the security of all the Central African people;The reduction of the transition period and the rapid organisation of elections;The establishment of an independent international committee of enquiry, tasked with shedding light on the human rights violations within the Central African Republic;A reconsideration regarding the presence of Chadian troops within the MISCA forces;The rapid deployment of UN blue helmet forces, given the complexity of operations on the ground;The unconditional disarmament of the ex-seleka, the anti-balaka and all other persons in possession of weapons;The disarmament of hands, heart and spirit;The establishment of a process of demobilisation, disarmament and repatriation of the Chadian and Sudanese mercenaries and the reintegration of Central African combattants;A spirit of trust;The promotion of dialogue between the faithful of the different religions which coexist in Central Africa;The rediscovery and promotion of human and civic values;The promotion of fraternal dialogue at every level;The promotion of tolerance, forgiveness and reconciliation;The renewal of our hope in God and in man;The cultivation of truth, justice and peace;Reparation and compensation of the victims of the rebellion;The development of greater solicitude in the distribution of wealth;Resistance to moral decay (jealousy, corruption, hatred, passion, anger …) ;The struggle against the system of social exclusion based on ethnic, religious and regional identity;The rebuilding of the social fabric;The promotion of good governance;The healing of relations with neighbouring countries, in particular with Chad.9.     Conclusion

«The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord make his face to shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. » (Num 6:24-26).

The year 2013 has been a year of severe trials for the entire Central African people. No one has been spared by this crisis, which has brought so many misfortunes, plunged so many families into mourning and destroyed not only our social fabric but our entire administrative and judicial apparatus and brought our economy to its knees. Nevertheless, the Lord has not abandoned us. Trusting in his fatherly concern, which urges us to live as brothers and sisters because we are all his children, we pray that this New Year of 2014 may enable us to live in peace and mutual harmony.

For a united and peaceful Central African Republic, through the intercession of Mary, Queen of Peace.

Bangui January 8, 2014

This statement was made available to Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries.

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