In this interview with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Coadjutor Bishop Cyr-Nestor Yapaupa of the Diocese of Alindao in the Central African Republic expresses his fears about the forthcoming elections, which are due to take place on Oct. 18, 2015. At the same time, however, he points to the signs of hope for a way out of the crisis, as he looks forward to the arrival of the Pope at the end of November.
This interview is contributed by Amélie de la Hougue. It was conducted prior to this weekend’s violence in Bangui.
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What is the situation in the Central African Republic today with regard to security?
Bishop Yapaupa: In the capital and in a few of the major cities security has once more been restored, thanks to the presence of the UN security forces. On the other hand, in the smaller towns, and in the countryside, the situation is more difficult for the local population. There are still many armed groups; armed robberies, violence and extortion continue with the gangs of the balakas. We experienced this again in my diocese, where a village was burnt down just over a month ago.
We bishops are continuing to call for disarmament, but neither the government nor the UN forces have made much effort in this direction. But things cannot improve if we do not follow the path of disarmament.
Elections are due to take place on Oct. 18 this year. What are your expectations?
Bishop Yapaupa: For the moment we are still under a transitional government, while we wait for the elections which have been set for 18 October, but we do wonder if all the appropriate conditions have been met for this. Is this really the time to hold elections, while there are still armed men who will go into the occupied zones and check people’s names on the electoral lists? Can we really expect to hold elections under normal conditions? This is the question that everybody is asking at the moment. It is going to be very difficult. The MINUSCA (the UN mission – Mission des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en Centrafrique) and the government need to shoulder their responsibilities here.
How do Christians feel today?
Bishop Yapaupa: That depends on where they live, but generally speaking they do have hope. In terms of their faith, the situation we are experiencing has helped them to grow and given them a great deal of courage. One senses now that the Christians are more earnest, more committed than before. I often say to them, “We may have lost everything; they may have stolen our material possessions, but we haven’t lost our faith.”
How are relations with the Muslims? Have you seen any changes in attitude?
Bishop Yapaupa: In our diocese, as a whole, there was never any confrontation between Christians and Muslims. Certainly, we sense that there is a certain reticence among the people, but they are trying to continue living together despite everything. And we ourselves have also continued, with the imam and the Protestants, to establish platforms – in other words, to get together to talk things over. This has borne many good fruits, for now even the authorities are asking the advice of our platforms. Being together in this way gives us greater credibility.
In the West people try to present this conflict to us as a war between Christians and Muslims. How do you react to that?
Bishop Yapaupa: I deplore this, because there is nothing religious about this conflict. They describe the anti-balaka as a “Christian militia,” but when I see these militias, with all their gris-gris (jujus, magic charms) on them, there’s nothing Christian about them. I am a Christian, I wear my cross, not these magic charms. In the same way the selekas don’t represent all the Muslims. It is not a religious conflict, but a political one.
What are the challenges for the Church in Central Africa today?
Bishop Yapaupa: The principal challenge for the Church is to restore people to a sense of their human dignity, above all through the education of the young. Young people are the future of the country; they represent 70% of the population. We have to give a sense of meaning to their lives, for in this way we will gain a great deal – since it is through them that we will be able to rebuild the country. We also want to emphasise the human formation of the laity, since from now on it will be the laity who will shoulder the main responsibilities, they are the ones who should be listened to much more than before. After that we will have to think about rebuilding the infrastructure; but first of all it is man himself whom we need to rebuild.
What are the concrete signs of hope for the future?
Bishop Yapaupa: I think we are slowly emerging from the crisis; normal life is resuming, more and more. Some villages that had been abandoned are now inhabited again, others had barriers separating Muslim and Christian quarters, but normal movement has now resumed in some of them. These are signs of hope. Some of the refugees are now returning to the country, and for those who have remained abroad we are hoping that things will improve. It is up to the government to organise things, so as to encourage those still living abroad to return home again.
What are your hopes for the visit of the Pope, who is scheduled to be in the country Nov. 27-29, 2015?
Bishop Yapaupa: That he may put a little bit of new heart in us and calm the tensions, so as to give new confidence to the people of Central Africa. The people are waiting for him with great joy, and everybody is actively making preparations. It is a great sign of hope for us, for it shows us that in the midst of our difficulties the Pope has thought of us.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN) www.acnmalta.org (Malta)