Central African Republic
A return of violence to the capital city of Bangui – A special report by Fr. Federico Trinchero, OCD
Father Federicho Trinchero is an Italian Carmelite and lives in the convent of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, situated in the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), Bangui. According to recent information we have received at ACN, there are as many as 7,600 displaced who have fled the new waves of violence, and who have sought refuge – once again – with the Carmelites.
For this religious, these recent events are a little bit of a repeat of the 5th of December, 2013. This date was one of the worst conflicts in Centralafrican history which left thousands displaced in Bangui, 10,000 people in the convent of the Carmelites which also became by consequence, the largest refugee camp in the capital.
A delegation from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) returned recently from CAR. On Sunday November 22, ACN will hold a day of Prayer for Peace in CAR, just a few days prior to the expected arrival of Pope Francis to the country on November 29 and 30.
We give you a report on the situation of their last days in Bangui, as given by the Father Federicho Trinchero.
This morning the situation in Bangui has once again become worse.
Father Matteo and André had gone to the Bank and I had left for St Marc’s to accompany the students to school. But we were surprised by a flood of people who were flocking to Carmel. Father Matteo turned back and reached Padre Pio’s. I tried to reach the Capuchins. But also at their place there were people who were fleeing. I telephoned Fr Father Edouard. No school for today. I have never seen so many people fleeing, especially children who were coming out of school and their parents who were arriving to get them. Here at Carmel we are OK and we will see if the people are coming back again or just staying here for the night. But many of them are arriving with their goods and chattels in bundles on their head.
The situation in Bangui is much calmer than yesterday. We managed to get to the bank and to school. Every so often there is gunfire. The helicopters often fly over our area. From 5 in the morning many people returned to their houses, but only to collect their goods and then return to Carmel. Once again, in the morning, houses were set afire. It seems to me that it was in the Makambo area. Columns of smoke can be seen rising up.
People arrived en masse. It is impossible to say how many they are, but there are quite a lot – from Plateau, Nguitangola, Fatima, Quina, Boing…
Today has been rather tense, like a small edition of 5th December 2013. In fact there was gunfire nearly the whole day in areas very close to us: Quina and Cattin. The most crucial time was between 1 and 3 in the afternoon. People were streaming to Carmel from their homes, especially from Guitangola. There were also those who were crying in fear. In the meantime we heard a lot of gunfire and the French helicopters were flying over almost on top of us. I must confess that I had a bit of healthy fear every so often. Then I telephoned a French general who immediately informed the central coordination of the Sangaris about our situation. In case of urgency we now have a special telephone number to request help. At the present moment we estimate we have around 5,000 refugees.
Today has been like yesterday, if not worse. After Mass, the gunfire started again, getting always closer to us. For hours the French helicopters flew over our area until the evening. We knew that yesterday the Muslims had overcome the parish of Fatima which is at least two hundred metres in the direction of Ketengere. It had never happened before. People arrived en masse. It is impossible to say how many they are, but there are quite a lot – from Plateau, Nguitangola, Fatima, Quina, Boing… There were also two Sisters of St Paul de Chartres from Foyer, who were attempting to get back home, but were forced to remain with us and this night they will sleep here. The rest of their community in Fatima were evacuated from Minusca and are now with the Combonian Fathers. There were too many burnt houses around them, the risk was too high. A woman from the Avicom area gave birth and then escaped as fast as possible to us with her baby girl. Aristide immediately took care of her. Then another woman gave birth during time of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. She did not arrive in time to get to the main gate and had given birth on the ground in a tent. Aristide ran to help with Br Jeannot-Marie who, without even taking off his holy habit, gave assistance to the mid-wife. There has also been a little rain, but fortunately it lasted only a short time. We open the gate of the courtyard every evening at five and then the people go out every morning at five. Others find space in the tents, or sleep at the grotto of Our Lady.
If it does rain we are forced to open the church, which we have already prepared by moving all the pews to one side. By means of the Vicar, the Nuncio and the French I have informed the Bishop of our situation.
On the average, we have one birth a day and we do everything possible to take the mothers to hospital. Yesterday I had to rush a woman to the general hospital for a Cesarian operation to avoid the death of the fetus and the mother, who is very young. We had to pay almost 70,000 Francs. Such an injustice to these poor people!
The night was particularly eventful. We had just got to sleep when all the people crowded into the garage began to cry out. We jumped out of bed thinking there was a Muslim attack. In reality it was a question of witchcraft or the cry of someone who had a nightmare or even the attempt of someone to rob the people of their money profiting from the panic….. It took almost an hour to calm the people. Then at 2.30 it began to rain and we put all the people, who were outside on the two verandahs, into the church. So many babies, so many women, but also so many young children. At 6.30 in the morning we were, however, able to celebrate All Souls’ day Mass ‘tranquilly’. Unfortunately the people continue to arrive even at night. This has never happened before.
Unfortunately, both yesterday and today, after a day of truce, light gunfire started up again. It seems to have been a clash between the blue helmets and the anti-Balaka. More than that I do not know. The people are still with us and at night the mothers and children sleep in the courtyard and in the church. At the moment it is also raining. The Sisters of St Paul de Chartres managed to get home while, however, Cedric is still here. Since Thursday he has not been able to get near his house. On the average, we have one birth a day and we do everything possible to take the mothers to hospital. Yesterday I had to rush a woman to the general hospital for a Cesarian operation to avoid the death of the fetus and the mother, who is very young. We had to pay almost 70,000 Francs. Such an injustice to these poor people! Today, during Evening Prayer, Matteo had to carry another. The child was taken to Emergency suffering from a strong attack of malaria, but unfortunately died. He was only 5 years old. Yesterday morning there was a meeting with the Bishop to sum up the situation. Unfortunately we were unable to take part. A commission has been established to draw a document of protest about the inertia of the authorities and the military forces. Today, the Archbishop sent to us a journalist from French Catholic TV (KTO). He was with us for nearly the whole day and made a report on our place. Also France 24 produced an article on Carmel.