This report is contributed by Oliver Maksan of Aid to the Church in Need.
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The pending visit of Pope Francis is arousing high hopes in the Central African Republic. “The Pope is coming to invite the people to rebuild a country where there is love and fraternity,” said Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga of Bangui, the troubled nation’s capital.
The Pope is due to visit Central African Republic Nov. 29 and 30, 2015, bringing hope to a country that has yet to fully recover from the violence unleashed two years ago by a coup staged by an extremist Muslim rebel alliance called Seleka.
“From the beginning Pope Francis has put himself forward as the poor people’s Pope. Here in the Central African Republic we are a very poor Church. We have gone through very difficult times,” Archbishop Nzapalainga told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, adding that “through his words, we believe, we hear the voice of Christ calling to us and speaking to our conscience so that we can confess our sins and the terrible crimes that have been committed. For that is the way of reconciliation.”
The prelate continued: “It’s as if we were sitting on top of smouldering embers. So many people still have weapons. A small spark would suffice to reignite the blaze.” However, he said he is not concerned about the Pope’s safety: “God is our first protector. And the Pope is coming in the name of Christ. It is Pope Francis’ wish to meet his brothers and sisters and in a certain way to share their insecurity. He wants to experience and get to know people’s reality.”
The archbishop believes the papal visit will be crucial to heal Christian-Muslim relations in the country, saying: “During the Pope’s visit Muslims and Christians will come together like brothers and sisters. After all, we believe in one God despite everything. The Pope’s visit is an invitation to rediscover this fraternity.”
Bishop Cyr-Nestor Yapaupa of Alindao—in the very region where Seleka launched their uprising—explained that the fight against poverty and the healing of the people’s deep wounds were the two prime tasks of the Church in his country. Early on, rebels targeted the the Church’s infrastructure, the bishop said. Rectories, health centers and Caritas facilities were looted. Furthermore all the vehicles of the diocese were stolen, including those critical for providing medical care to outlying villages.
“The Christian community suffered a great deal because many priests were forced to leave their parishes. The rebels stole everything. The people therefore had nothing left to keep themselves alive,” the bishop said. A rebuilding effort has only barely gotten underway, in part thanks to the presence of international peacekeeping forces.
Over the weekend, there were more attacks in Bangui, resulting in hundreds more people fleeing their homes.
Reuters reported that at least 90 people have died violently since late September.
The Holy Father expressed “strong worry” for the “painful episodes of the past days that have worsened the situation in Central African Republic.”
In addition to urging all the people of CAR to be “witnesses of peace” and to “work for reconciliation,” Francis reminded those in the “afflicted” and “tormented” nation of his closeness to them.
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)