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Central Africa

 

Central African Republic – The Church fears a massacre in Bangassou

25.01.2018 in ACN Chile, Africa, Aid to refugees, by Loreto Prado, Central Africa, Central African Republic, Central African Republic (CAR), International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Prayer

Central African Republic –
The Church fears a massacre in Bangassou

 

From his place in hiding, together with other priests, Father Yovane Cox, a Chilean missionary in the Central African Republic, has contacted the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) with an urgent plea for our prayers. “The cathedral in Bangassou is being attacked”, he told us last Friday 19 January. “The situation is quite critical, because this attack had already been foretold, and yet the UN forces in charge of security here paid no attention to what people told them. It seems almost as though they want to see a massacre here in the cathedral, and in the area where the Muslims are being sheltered”, he told us.

 

Already in May 2017 some 2000 Muslims took refuge in the grounds of the diocesan minor seminary of the Catholic Church (around 200 metres from the cathedral), seeking protection. Today a little under 1000 are still sheltering there. “All around this place there are armed men on the prowl, hoping that one of the Muslims will emerge, so that they can kill him”, Father Yovane explained, at the same time speaking of the inhuman conditions in which they are living. “Some of the Muslims try to leave the site to go and look for firewood, while others do so in order to scavenge in the houses that have been abandoned around the area (in search of food they need to survive on)”, he explained. Yesterday, one of these Muslims was caught by the anti-balakas, (the anti-Muslim rebel gang) and murdered him on the spot. This caused great alarm among the Muslims who are still sheltering in the grounds of the Catholic Church. According to Father Yovane, if it had not been for the contingent of Cameroonian soldiers, who intervened, the situation would have been still more critical.

Central African Republic
Muslim refugees next to the Cathedral in Bangassou.

 

The priests in the Catholic mission are watching helplessly, expecting that at any moment the anti-balakas may invade the camp, intending to kill the Muslims who have taken refuge there. And with no one intervening to prevent them. “By the silence of the state authorities and the inaction of the UN forces in not wanting to move the few Muslims still left on this site, they are simply inviting a confrontation between the two groups and a resulting bloodbath. What we are sounding the alarm about and what we are asking them to do is to please relocate them from this site, because it is the only way of saving those still remaining here, who are for the most part women and children”, the Chilean priest told ACN.

 

United Nations: accused of inaction

 

Nine months have now passed since the truce between the antibalakas and the Muslims broke down. This country, already marked by a history of violence and warfare, is today living through one of its most difficult chapters. “We are in a situation in which nobody is in control – neither the government, nor the United Nations nor the local authorities, and still less we ourselves in the Catholic Church” Father Yovane explained, adding that the Church is the only organisation that has remained here to help. “There are no other organisations, most of them have left. The last to do so wasDoctors Without Borders.”

 

When we asked him about the situation of the Christians in the diocese, he explained that “the Christians are for the most part living in hiding in their villages or in the suburbs. They are too frightened to gather in the churches or in the cathedral. When we celebrate Holy Mass on Sundays those who attend number no more than 15 or so. We priests are limited in what we can do and our pastoral work is at a standstill. Some of the clergy are living in the capital and the rest are limited in our activities.” This is due to the deep gulf between the positions of the radical Muslims, who see the Catholic Church as complicit (with the anti-balakas), and the anti-balakas themselves, who see the Church as a traitor for protecting the Muslims and giving them shelter. “There is a mutual incomprehension, a very deep antagonism, and the Church finds herself caught in the middle between them, a perfect target for anybody who has lost control of the situation”, Father Yovane tells us unhappily.

Central African Republic
Father Yovane Cox, a Chilean missionary, before the start of the conflict.

 

Request for prayers

 

At the present time only two of the eight parishes in the diocese are still open and most of the priests are living at the cathedral in Bangassou for their own security. The violence in the region has forced them to close down all the schools of the diocese. “We cannot gather the children in the schools, knowing that it would be immensely difficult to assure their safety in the classrooms”, the Chilean priest explains. For him this has meant postponing his dream of opening a new school in his own parish of Bema, and educating 400 children.

Central African Republic
Father Yovane Cox, a Chilean missionary in the Central African Republic – now in Bangassou.

 

Above all he is calling on us to pray. “We know that our only security is that which comes to us from God and it is in Him that we place our entire lives and our trust”, he tells us. “We are conscious that the Church in the diocese of Bangassou is in the midst of a fight between men, trying to bring a little peace, though her voice is scarcely being heard.” Nevertheless, he still thanks ACN “for being the voice of those whom nobody listens to, the voice of those who have been forgotten…”

 

From 2014 to 2016 the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need supported the Catholic church
in the Central African Republic with 3,9 million dollars. 

Text: Loreto Prado, ACN-Chile
Adaptation: ACN-Canada.

Project of the Week: A house of Mercy

16.03.2016 in ACN Canada, ACN PROJECTS, Adaptation Mario Bard, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aide à l’Église en détresse., Centrafrique, Central Africa, Central African Republic, Construction, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Mario Bard, Voyager avec l’AED

Central African Republic

 

Help to renovate and extend a parish church in Bozoum

The parish of Saint Michael, in Bozoum, Central Africa, is one of the oldest in the country. Founded in 1927, it was the first mission station outside the modern capital of Bangui and become famous mainly due to the courageous work of the Italian Carmelite, Father Aurelio Gazzera.

 

Father Aurelio, who is 53 today, had already become something of a legend by his mid-40s. It was in 2007, in fact, when he  single-handedly succeeded in putting a stop to the ravages of the bandits, the so-called “Zaraguinas,” who were looting houses, abducting children, extorting ransoms and generally keeping people in fear and in terror.

Father Aurelio went out, unarmed, to meet the heavily armed bandits and succeeded in persuading them to return to a normal life with their families, to mend their ways and leave the people in peace. “My only weapon was prayer,” he says.

A few months later, the people were able to live in peace once more and their children went back to school again. To this day, the children in the villages of the region still sing a song about him: “Merci na Aurelio na Nzapa ti lo” – “Thanks to Aurelio and his God for making the bandits put down their guns.”

The next time though, that Bozoum caught the world’s eye,  was during the bloody warfare of 2013 and 2014. On this occasion Father Aurelio again succeeded, through tireless peace negotiations  with all the warring parties and with the various different ethnic groups, in preventing a massacre in his town. Many of the world media reported on the action of this courageous priest, who saved hundreds of lives but who on many occasions almost paid with his own life for this. But his motto was, and is: “Even if they kill me, I will not die.”

A celebration in the church of Bozoum. Father Aurelio hope people can pray in a bigger church and receive Mercy there too.

A celebration in the church of Bozoum. Father Aurelio hopes people will be able to pray in a bigger church and receive Mercy there too.

In his efforts to bring peace, his face was slapped by the rebels, his car was shot up, and on one occasion an overheated Muslim mob very nearly lynched him. While stones rained down on his car and furious individuals threatened him with guns, Father Aurelio quietly prayed the Rosary. He lived by the literal word of the Gospel: “Do good to those who hate you.”

No to vengeance, yes to generosity

Immediately after this incident, he set out, together with a handful of volunteers from the parish, to bring water, rice and medicines – provided at his own expense – to the Muslims, who had retreated together in a dense crowd for safety, for fear of reprisals. But, above all, he wanted to bring them consolation as he said later, adding, “They were the same people who had threatened me and smashed the windows of my car with stones. But now they were nothing but frightened children, women and men, who were also in need.”He even succeeded in persuading the people of his parish get involved in active of charity to benefit the Muslims.

Initially, he ventured out cautiously, asking  people to bring money and food to the church in order to help the Muslims. “I did not press this point too hard, because I know that the wounds are still very much open. Many people have lost family members, others had relatives who were tortured; some were robbed, and all of them were forced to spend weeks far away from home – and all this because of the overwhelmingly Muslim Seleka rebels and some local Muslims.” But in the end Father Aurelio was overwhelmed by their generosity. “Normally, with the collection for the poor which we hold once a month, the people give a little bit of food for the orphans and a little bit of money, between 20 and 30 CAN dollars. But that Sunday my Christians really touched me. They brought a great quantity of foodstuffs with them and contributed more than 100 CAN dollars!” That is a lot of money in such a bitterly poor country. And he adds, visibly moved, “The people were willing to give much more for their enemies of yesterday than they normally give for their own brothers and sisters, the poor people of the parish.”

 

A bigger place for Mercy

Father Aurelio knows well that the most important thing of all is to break the terrible spiral of hatred and revenge and, after the war, to rebuild not only the ruined houses but above all the hearts and consciences of the people. The present Year of Mercy is an ideal opportunity to do so. In fact it was in the Central African Republic that Pope Francis actually anticipated this year by opening the Holy Door in the Catholic cathedral of the capital Bangui on 29 November 2015, in order to make this Mercy tangibly present above all in this country so torn apart by hatred and violence. And in his homily he also declared Bangui the “spiritual capital of the world.”

 

Father Aurelio wants to proclaim this message of Divine Mercy to everyone. Above everything else, he is a priest – in both heart and soul. He says, “If I can give some food to someone who is hungry, then that is already something. But if I can give him the true Food, namely Christ, then I am giving him everything.” His parish is flourishing, and every year there are over 100 baptisms. There have been spiritual vocations from the parish, and his church is full for every Holy Mass. Yet it is precisely this – though in fact a reason for joy – that has also brought him a problem, for the church has now become too small! The structure of the church, which was built in the 1960s, is also suffering, and there are cracks in the foundations. This damage must be corrected, and at the same time Father Aurelio wants to enlarge the church so that it can accommodate more of the faithful.

ACN is helping him with 58,000 CAN dollars, so that he can repair and enlarge this church and so that this parish church of Bozoum can in future become a place of mercy for still more of his people.

Vocations are Floroushing in Bozoum.

Vocations are flourishing in Bozoum.


 

June 20 – World Refugee Day

18.06.2015 in ACN International, By Teresa Engländer, Cameroon, Central Africa, Emergency Aid, Gaza, Middle East, Nigeria, Pastoral aid, Refugees, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, Uncategorized

 June 20 – World Refugee Day

ACN-20141012-14339Refugees ask: “What now?”

In 2014, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) spent more than 13.9 million helping refugees and displaced persons around the world.

 

Montreal, Thursday June 18, 2015 – When the militia attacked their village in Nigeria, they knew that there was no time to lose. They grabbed their children and ran for their lives. We’ll call them Family G. – as they fled, the father was killed; the mother and children made it to the safety of a refugee camp. However, although the camp offers a certain degree of security, there isn’t really anything else. Essentials like water, food, blankets, medicine and hygiene items are in scarce supply and these refugee families are simply overcome by a deep lassitude.

These people have been traumatized. For they have had to watch as family members died or were lost to them as they attempted to flee. They no longer have homes they can return to. Their uncertainty gnaws at them like hungry rats, asking themselves the same question every day: What now? Family G. represents countless refugee families around the world, all of whom have similar stories to tell.

51.2 million displaced people around the world

Approximately 51.2 million people around the world are currently in search of safe haven[1]. These families come from Nigeria, Eritrea or South Sudan, from Syria, Iraq or Ukraine. They are fleeing war and terror, political or religious suppression. Their persecutors may bear different names, but sow destruction under the same mask of hatred and delusion.

The Islamic terror organization, Boko Haram, has been ravaging northern Nigeria and Cameroon for six years. Around 1.5 million Nigerians are searching for safe haven within the country; another 136,405 people have fled to neighbouring countries. ACN is helping displaced persons from the especially hard hit dioceses Bamburi and Maiduguri in Nigeria with $62,500 and from Maroua-Mokolo, Cameroon, with another $20,700.  In Central Africa the rebel forces Seleka are creating havoc. Communities overflowing with displaced persons in this area have received $90,300 in aid.

 

InRefugee CAF Credit ACN Fr. Federico Trinchero South Sudan and Eritrea, people are fleeing both the unrests that keep breaking out between individual rebel forces as well as political and religious suppression. According to UNHCR, more than 560,000 South Sudanese are searching for a safe haven. Many have found refuge in refugee camps in Ethiopia: since 2014, ACN has come to their aid with $91,630. Projects for Eritrean refugees have been funded with $134,700.

 

In the Middle East, war and the terror organization Islamic State (IS) have been responsible for the displacing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian Christians and intensified the wave of emigration in these countries that has been increasing exponentially since the Arab Spring began in 2011. UNHCR estimates 6.6 million refugees have come from Iraq and just under 4 million registered Syrian refugees.

Many have fled to neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Since 2014, Aid to the Church in Need has donated 10 million dollars to providing pastoral and charitable care to Iraqi refugees and another 6 million dollars for Syrian refugees inside and outside of the country, mainly in emergency relief.

The Gaza Strip remains in a constant and sad state of unrest. In 2015, ACN donated $20,820 to ensure that displaced Christians receive access to medical care in this region.

During the past year, the aid organization donated approximately $55,530 to Ukraine to fund a soup kitchen and provide medical care for people fleeing the Crimean conflict. Another $83,300 was given in 2015 to ensure the refugees access to pastoral care.Refugee Gaza

A major concern for ACN

From its veRefugee Ukrainery beginning, the situation of refugees has been a major concern to Aid to the Church in Need and remains so to this day. Through its refugee aid projects, ACN is keeping Father Werenfried’s legacy alive, a man who recognized the distress of German refugees after World War II and called upon his Flemish compatriots to make donations.

In his very first, evocative letter asking for donations, he wrote: “Many of us have it warm; we are doing well. We have a flat, glass windows that protect us from the cold and, despite the scarcity of food and other things that prevails because of the post-war period, despite extortionate prices, there is very little that we actually lack. But do we even think about the fact that outside, thousands of Marys and Josephs are making their way through Europe? That Christ is weeping in the guise of the poor, the homeless and the refugees, of hungry and thirsty people, of those incarcerated or sick, and of all those whom He has called the lowliest of His children and in whose misery He has concealed His incarnate form?”

An aid organization arose from this mission. The pontifical aid organization Aid to the Church in Need developed out of Father Werenfried’s first fundraisers and now has benefactors in over 21 countries. In 2014, the organization supported around 5,000 local church projects around the world with donations totaling 155 million dollars. Just from January 2014 to today (June 2015), the aid organization has invested more than 13.9 million dollars – in projects for refugees.

 

[1] These and other figures, source: UNHCR, http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c4d6.html

donateRefugee Iraq

For Immediate Release: Central African Republic “Central African Republic threatens to become a hub for terrorism”

25.06.2014 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Central Africa, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Persecution of Christians

Eva-Maria Kolmann, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

 

Montreal, Wednesday June 25, 2014 – The current crisis threatens to turn the Central African Republic into a “hub for terrorism and fundamentalism.” This was the warning given by the Italian Carmelite Father Aurelio Gazzera last Friday (June 20) while speaking before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. “Boko Haram and Al Qaida are getting closer and closer,” the missionary said in his address, having worked in the country for 22 years. The role of the international community was “fundamental” he continued.  But to date the international community had “not managed to really change anything.”

 

Italian Carmelite Father Aurelio Gazzera  © Aid to the Church in Need

Italian Carmelite Father Aurelio Gazzera
© Aid to the Church in Need

Concrete action at the grass roots 

Gazzera demanded a speedier and more effective intervention: “Over the past few months I have been present as the vicious circle of ethnic and intercommunity strife has developed. This spiral of violence is causing the population to flee and is sowing the seeds of terror, and it has developed at such a rate that the international community comes too late, even when it acts quickly; too late to help the defenceless people and to stop the armed men.”  The international community “often only steps in to stabilize a situation which has been imposed by the various rebel groupings.”

 

On the other hand, various local peace-mediating initiatives had been successful. In the town of Bozoum in the north west of the country, where Father Aurelio Gazzera works, for example: The state was absent, he said. “In Bozoum there is practically no gendarmerie or police force and in general the authority of the officials and forces of law and order is almost at zero level. At any rumours of attacks they regularly take immediate flight.” In December Father Gazzera had therefore established a mediation committee in collaboration with two imams, a protestant pastor and volunteers from the local population.  Through negotiations with all the groups involved it had been possible “to lessen the violence of the Séléka”. This work had resulted in January this year in the withdrawal of the Séléka from the town.

The members of the mediation committee had “exposed themselves to risks” in order to work for peace. Gazzera himself had been slapped around the face, had stones thrown at him and been shot at with Kalashnikovs by the rebels. Even so, it had been possible “with a handful of men and women to prevent a thousand rebels from completely destroying the town of Bozoum.” In view of these facts the Italian Carmelite stressed the need to conduct talks not only at governmental level, but also “to listen to those who are taking concrete action at the grass roots.”

 

Good intentions are not always enough

The committee, which continues to operate, had installed a toll-free telephone number to enable people to report violent assaults. Furthermore a “Committee of Wise Men” has been established which “is intended to solve problems because, in the absence of the court and relevant personnel, there was a danger that the administration of justice would be in the hands of armed groups.”  Gazzera emphasized the role of the media, and especially the internet: “They are a unique instrument for providing information and transmitting news. By means of emails, blogs and social networks we have created links which are valuable and can bring about changes.” Finally he said: “The most important thing seems to me to be the reconstruction of the heart: by means of schools, education and information.  We also need expertise. There are so many people of good will! But good intentions are not always enough. We must understand what has brought the country to such an abyss in order to identify and acknowledge the mistakes of the past, and also to analyse the situation in such a way that we will be able to create a peaceful future.”

 

© Aid to the Church in Need

© Aid to the Church in Need

In view of his experience in peace mediation, Gazzera also took part last week in the “Oslo Forum,” one of the highest ranking meetings of peace mediators, which was held on 18 and 19 June near the Norwegian capital. At a panel discussion with the President of the Central African Republic, Catherine Samba-Panza, he also reported on his experience with mediation.

At the invitation of the international Catholic pastoral charity “Aid to the Church in Need,” the missionary had already informed EU politicians in Brussels and diplomats accredited at the Holy See in Rome in April and May of this year about the situation in the Central African Republic.

 

 

Central African Republic – “Peace is still a long way away”

04.06.2014 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Central Africa, Central African Republic, Peace

By Eva-Maria Kolmann, ACN International

Adapted by, Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

 

CENTRAFRIQUE-1Montreal, June 4, 2014 –

The Prior of the Carmelite Monastery in Bangui, Father Federico Trinchero, calls for a quick resolution of the conflict in the Central African Republic.

 

Talking to the international Catholic pastoral charity “Aid to the Church in Need” he said: “The people of the Central African Republic are awaiting a truly political solution. But such a solution will only yield a positive result if it does not involve any compromises with anyone who uses violence or propagates the spirit of vengeance.” The people were “tired and discouraged” and they no longer believed in promises, the Italian Carmelite Father explained.  Foreign troops, he said, were not able to act effectively and often came too late.

CENTRAFRIQUE-3

“Reconciliation may take years” 

The attack on the Church of Our Lady of Fatima in the capital Bangui on May 28, killing at least 18 people; that the fate of more than 40 abducted hostages remains uncertain, has proven that peace is “still a long way away.”  The attack took place only a few kilometres from the Carmelite monastery. The situation around the monastery was relatively calm at the time, but the attack had again led to a growth in the number of refugees. More than 7000 refugees turned the site of the monastery into one of the largest refugee camps in the capital.

 

“We hope that the refugees will soon be able to return home, but there is no end is in sight.”  Babies were even being in the monastery’s refectory, the first on December 30.  At times there were up to 15,000 refugees on the monastery site.

NOTRE-DAME-DU-CAP-1

“I’m afraid the process of reconciliation may take years. The country has undergone a very profound break. But I hope that it will be possible to mobilize the vital energies of the young people to enable them to take the future of the country into their own hands,” Trinchero said.  “The Church is not looking on passively, but is continuing with its mission. Nevertheless this may trouble many of those who do not love peace.”

Central Africa A priest assasinated – Easter plunged into mourning

24.04.2014 in ACN Canada, Central Africa, Persecution of Christians

By Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

Translated by Amanda Bridget Griffin

Montreal, Thursday April 24, 2014 –  It is with much sorrow that ACN has learned of the assassination of Father Christ Forman Wilibona in Paoua, northern Central Africa. On Friday April 18, while on his way home by motorbike, he was seemingly thrown down and likely the victim of mutilations.

The priest, who was a parish priest in the diocese of Bossangoa was buried on-site by local villagers.  His murderers would have been the Bororos – Chadian livestock farmers, long time bandits and allies to members of the Seleka.

We recall two days earlier when Msgr Désiré-Nestor Nongo Aziagbya, bishop of Bossangoa was taken hostage along with three other priests in Butangafo, Cental Africa prior to the Paschal tour and finally being set free on Good Friday, the very day of the assassination.  It was with bitterness in the face of this resurgence of violent acts directed toward clergy that Msgr Dieudonné Nzapalainga, bishop of Bangui, denounced the barbaric acts which may well call into question all efforts for a much desired national reconciliation.

CENTRAFRIQUE-2On the other hand, as did Pope Francis while offering his Urbi et Orbi Easter Message, Msgr Nzapalainga invited all Central Africans and all men and women of good faith to pray for the return of peace and of security to the country and to open their hearts to dialogue and reconciliation.

He also called on the government to oversee the disarmament of all militias and for the right of free circulation of all persons across the entire territory.

CENTRAL – AFRICA: HISTORY OF A CONFLICT (VI)

10.02.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, ACN SPECIAL SERIES, Aid to refugees, Catholic priests, Catholic Religious Brothers, Central Africa, Central African Republic, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Uncategorized

 For the final word in this series of five articles on Central Africa, we give you the words of Father Federico who will speak to us about an extraordinary man: Father Anastasio Roggero.

 


 Father Anastasio: the Soul of Carmel de Bangui

 Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

Translated and adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada

 “Father Anastasio is the founder and the soul of this paradise that is the Carmel of Bangui.  He is more than twice my age and has triple the enthusiasm.  Since 1998, he has been living in our convent in Prague, but since 1975 his heart has been in the Central African Republic.  This gentle and smiling brother, always equipped with his camera, travels the world at a hundred kilometers an hour, from India to the United States, speaking well (this in 8 different languages) of we missionaries; it sounds just to me that at least once, a missionary should speak well of him.

© ACN/AED

© ACN/AED

Without him and his animated and tireless missionary spirit, our missions would not be what they are; and that which everyone seems to envy us for. In order to better devote himself to his mission, which he does with a very unique sense of zeal, he would like days made up of 36 hours.  Father Anastasio, who is gifted with an incredible memory, worked over many years as a Church history professor.  His great memory allowed him to collect the faces, images, stories and friendships of thousands of benefactors the world over. And it must be said that when he first began his work, he didn’t have an address, or any money to take him to Africa.

 

His three great loves 

For those who do not know, it was he who invented the celebrated lavender of the Arenzano brothers which perfumes the world.  Father Anastasio has three loves:  The Child Jesus (preferably the one in Prague or in Arenzano), the poor of Central Africa (if you give him a dollar, you can be sure he will give it to them) and Tecktonas [teak] (sure he has planted as many as there are inhabitants in Central-Africa).

At the end of the 90s, he bought a forested area in a suburb close to the capital of the Central African Republic with the intention of founding a convent for Carmelites. Unfortunately, the Sisters did not come.  Father Anastasio transformed the grounds into a garden with an immense plantation of palm trees and a luxurious nursery of teaks and other plants while saying: “We can produce oil in little time; the teaks will be useful in 40 years.”

Later, more precisely in 2006, Brothers settled there and changed the convent into a building which would then become an oil mill.  This is how it came to be in the capital that a long awaited, for many reasons, and steady presence of Carmelites remained.  Since then, Father Anastasio visits Carmel almost every three months to encourage their work and to manage the growth of the Tecktonas.

 

Some teaks later 

When he is with us, our breaks are animated with stories of his voyages and brightened by excellent chocolate which is never missing from his suitcases. I was certain that he would come as scheduled, despite recent events and the unstable environment which has overtaken the country.  He arrived a few days ago by passage through Morocco.

Before his arrival, I confided in him, a little preoccupied, that our dear refugees had used the teaks and palm tree branches to build hundreds of little huts around the convent.  But barely arrived, he greeted me and before I could say a thing, he reassured me:  “Do not worry dear father prior! You, you are young.  But I, I know war because I saw it as a child.  I thought that the teaks would be useful in forty years, when I would no longer be; but they are already useful and I was able to see!  I am going to run and take some pictures!’

© ACN/AED

© ACN/AED

This is how Father Anastasio is.  Though he has never been a missionary in the strict sense of the word, it would be hard to come by someone who loves Africa the way he does.”

 And Father Federico concludes his letter by writing: “These last few days, we have received numerous messages of gratitude from the entire world and especially from Brothers and Sisters of our order.  This popularity surprised us a little.  Do we deserve all these compliments?  I must say that we are not even aware of having done something extraordinary.  If you were in my place, you would have done the same thing.  Moreover, know that there are places living in similar situations to ours with even greater numbers of refugees.”

We leave it up to you to decide!


 

To make a donation by  please call: (514) 932-0552 or toll free 1-(800) 585-6333  or click the image to make a secure on-line donation.

To make a donation by please call: (514) 932-0552 or toll free 1-(800) 585-6333
or click the image to make a secure on-line donation.

 

 

 

CENTRAL – AFRICA: History of a Conflict (V)

07.02.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PRESS, ACN SPECIAL SERIES, Central Africa

Given the dramatic situation known to Central-Africa for more than a year now, and by way of solidarity with its populace, we are continuing today with a series of articles which will enable you to accompany the people of this country, currently at the heart of an unspeakable conflict: a war which recalls the extreme violence of a certain Rwandan genocide, one which we underscore this year with the sad 20th anniversary of the tragedy.  How can this tragedy be forgotten?  And nonetheless…

If the lines that you are reading are often stained with suffering, you will also see that they contain love stories which allow for transcendence. You will encounter men and women capable of acts of such beauty and of such solicitude, that you will recognize in them, propagators of hope which help us believe that life – is more powerful than death.

 


“Christians and Muslims: One blood, one language, one country.”

by José Carlos Rodríguez Soto / María Lozano

Dieudonné is a young priest from the diocese of Alindao. When the Séléka rebels came to his parish in March last year, they launched an attack which left a trail of destruction. His own life was threatened and he had to flee in a canoe together with many members of the parish. They managed to cross the Mbomou River and land on the other bank, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are among more than 80 000 Central Africans who have had to flee to neighbouring countries. A further 600 000 inhabitants are internal refugees – a monstrous figure in view of the fact that the total population of the Central African Republic numbers just under four and a half million.

Father Dieudonné was able to return to his parish a few months later. At the beginning of December he stayed in Bangui to recuperate at his parents’ home in the urban district of Lakuanga. On  December 5, the attacks on the capital started and they claimed more than 500 lives in only three days. The increasing violence soon took a religious turn: there were numerous clashes between Christians and Muslims.

On Monday, December 9, Father Dieudonné was at his parents’ home in the evening when he heard worrying noises outside. He went out onto the street and found a large group of agitated young men who had come together to attack Muslim-owned businesses. Without hesitation he called the district headman. Together they tried to calm the young men down and to stop them from attacking Muslims. A number of young Christian men even placed themselves in front of the Muslims’ houses and shops to protect them. For weeks, Father Dieudonné has been preaching at the 6:15 a.m. mass in an attempt to pour oil on troubled waters and to remind the Christians that hatred and violence are completely contrary to the Gospel. He and his brothers in the parish organized two days of reconciliation for Christians and Muslims. He points to a poster on the notice-board in the parish bearing the slogan “Christians and Muslims: One blood, one language, one country.”

©AED/ACN

©AED/ACN

Father Dieudonné is not acting alone. Kobine Layama is a Muslim Imam and chairman of the Islamic community in the Central Africa Republic. Together with Kobine Layama, the Catholic Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga and the Protestant Minister Nicolas Guerekoyame established an interdenominational peace group at the beginning of January. During the time when half the country was occupied by the Séléka rebels, the three men conducted peace missions. They mediated between the parties in the country’s interior in order to prevent the clashes from becoming open warfare.

When the Séléka rebels occupied Bangui and seized power there, Imam Layama found himself in a difficult personal situation: many Central African Muslims saw this as a sign that the time had come for them to take power.

In many places Séléka rebels and Muslims openly collaborated. Kobine Layama is a religious person, a pious Muslim who is convinced that Muslims and Christians should live in peace and mutual respect. He became an awkward figure for the Séléka rebels because he preached: “What you are doing – stealing, killing, raping women and terrorizing people – is contrary to what God commands us to do in the Koran.”

Imam Oumar Kobine Layama ©AED/ACN

Imam Oumar Kobine Layama
©AED/ACN

In August the Sélékas’ feared Number 2, General Nouroudine Adam, called him in his office: “Stop taking the side of the Christians and criticizing us. Otherwise, you will bear the consequences.” Asviolence raged through Bangui on December 5, and caused 500 deaths in three days, Kobine sought shelter with his friend, the Archbishop Schutz. He knew that his life was under threat from the extremists on both sides. Since then he has indefatigably called for calm and reconciliation. Kobine has called on those of his Muslim brothers who have weapons to give them up. Many could not understand his attitude.

The nature of the Central African conflict is not religious, but social and political. Violence and revenge is being fomented by those who want to see an outbreak of hostilities between Christians and Muslims; time and again this puts the country’s citizens in borderline situations. The archbishop, the minister and the imam are three courageous voices tirelessly calling for peace; they are therefore running considerable risks. The number of people who have lost their lives in Bangui in the last few days is estimated to be about 500; it would have been more if it weren’t for people like them and Father Dieudonné.


Coming up on Monday:

For the final word in this series of five articles on Central Africa, we give you the words of Father Federico who will speak to us about an extraordinary man: Father Anastasio Roggero.

Father Anastasio: the Soul of Carmel de Bangui

CENTRAL – AFRICA: HISTORY OF A CONFLICT (IV)

06.02.2014 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Central Africa, Central African Republic, Uncategorized

Given the dramatic situation known to Central-Africa for more than a year now, and by way of solidarity with its populace, we are continuing today with a series of articles which will enable you to accompany the people of this country, currently at the heart of an unspeakable conflict: a war which recalls the extreme violence of a certain Rwandese genocide, one which we underscore this year with the sad 20th anniversary of the tragedy.  How can this tragedy be forgotten?  And nonetheless…

 

If the lines that you are reading are often stained with suffering, you will also see that they contain love stories which allow for transcendence. You will encounter men and women capable of acts of such beauty and of such solicitude, that you will recognize in them, propagators of hope which help us believe that life – is more powerful than death.

 


 “The Km5 came to me!”

Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

Translated and adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada

 And yet, at the heart of this drama, lives an event whose love story is worthy of being told around the entire world so as to bring hope – even where unity reigns within disorder; where the celebration of a Mass echoes the sound of gunfire; where the faithful sing so loud that the sounds of rebellion fall into the depths of the Word; and where love gives birth, showing that it is more powerful than is war.

 

Chronicle of a love story

ACN-20131210-03532

© ACN/AED

 On December 5, 2013, as he was preparing breakfast, Father Frederico Trinchero, prior of the Carmes brothers in the Bangui monastery, was ‘disturbed’ by some un-awaited guests. Suddenly, 2000 people were waiting at our door,” he declared to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) only a few days later, when speaking about the crowd who came to find refuge in the convent where they were welcomed with ‘open arms’ by eleven brothers.  They hoped they would be protected from the danger caused by the massacres which took place not very far from there.

How did the brothers arrive at finding enough provisions to face this situation?  “If Jesus did it, we can also do it!” thought the prior, inspired by the miracle of the multiplication of bread.  Close to 50 days later, not only are the 2000 “guests” still there and very much alive, but so are the 8,000 who followed on December 20, as very violent clashes had provoked the arrival of a this new wave.

A live ‘crèche’…

It was during the celebration of a Mass with shots echoing in the background, during which the faithful sang so loud that the noise of rebellion fell into the deep of the Word, that the new arrivals, arrived. This improvised refugee camp, in no time at all, was reorganized into a system of zones, each one directed by what could be called a ‘village chief’ who would be responsible for the distribution of goods.  This African approach worked so well because of its simplicity, that the prior’s rigour overcame his cold, and so demonstrating that Life surpasses death.

ACN-20131210-03531

© ACN/AED

Add to that the births which quietly increased the number of lodgers. For, along with Christmas came four newborns.  The Carmes came to realize that their convent had been transformed into a living crèche where the Child-Jesus was arriving multiple times over.

Since, however, the war made itself known again though its gunshots, its dead, the pillaging and the attacks in numerous neighbourhoods, some of which were very close to the convent.  While waiting for better days and a more stable sense of peace, the refugees preferred to stay.  “Stay here, for this is a form of passive protest to ask for lasting peace, not temporary,” said Brother Frederico to the people. According to the last estimates, one million people, 20% of whom are Central African, are currently refugees.

… Becoming a miniature Central Africa

“In our refugee camp,” continues brother Federico, “life goes on somewhat normally… if we can consider normal life being thousands of people gathered around a convent.” And the little crèche became somewhat of a miniature Central Africa “along with all its vices and virtues…  this co-habitation allowed me to better know the former and to better appreciate the latter.” They also agreed on a kind of code of ethics, which would better help them live together during the day, and rest a little more soundly at night.

In this miniature country, the people created a market for vegetables, meat and commodities of all kinds which surrounded the convent; a hair dressing salon, a small pharmacy, a sewing workshop, stores selling religious articles; a lottery and a popular bistro.  The prior recalls, amused, “My predecessor liked going to the famous Km5, the most well-stocked market in Bangui to do his groceries.  I can say I am very fortunate, because the Km5 came to me!”

And, Brother Federico concluded list of services available by speaking of their hospital in these terms: “Our little country hospital is in full operation and without committing the sin of pride, let us just say it is our ‘jewel’. With four young doctors, four nurses (including Sister Renata who must walk an hour every day to reach it) and other assistants – we can do hundreds of consultations per day and numerous interventions during the night.  The medications, which are kept safely in my room, are dispensed free of charge by an organization.  I could have imagined anything in my life other than becoming the director of a hospital, which was set up in a flash in my convent.”

Now, with the presence of Pietro and Father Anastasio who came to lend a strong hand to this “new society,” Brother Federico can breathe a little easier.  The prior said of Pietro: “He is the same age as me and he works with a great deal of competence and passion for the International Red Cross.”  Whereas his praises are such, of Father Anastasio, that we will let him tell you himself about this man in our final article of this series dedicated to Central Africa.

Finally, with a sense of humour in the face of all challenges, Brother Federico concludes by saying, “We have learned that amidst the hundred thousand displaced at the airport, a newborn was named ‘François Hollande’.  As you can see, everyone has their Saint, Patron or rather, we don’t know anymore to which Saint we should devote ourselves!

Coming up tomorrow:

 “Christians and Muslims: One blood, one language, one country.”

by José Carlos Rodríguez Soto / María Lozano

CENTRAL – AFRICA: HISTORY OF A CONFLICT (III)

05.02.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PRESS, ACN SPECIAL SERIES, Aid to refugees, Central Africa, Central African Republic, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need

 

If the lines that you are reading are often stained with suffering, you will also see that they contain love stories which allow for transcendence. You will encounter men and women capable of acts of such beauty and of such solicitude, that you will recognize in them, propagators of hope which help us believe that life – is more powerful than death.

 


 

20130513_013


© ACN

 

How far can the suffering go?” 

 

Eva-Maria Kolmann, ACN International

Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada

Joy broke out and the people danced in the streets when the news of the resignation of interim president Djotodia was announced on January 10. Just two weeks later, the Séléka ex-rebels withdrew from Bouar. “They were armed to the teeth, and they set off in a convoy in the direction of Chad,” reports Father Beniamino Gusmeroli after the days of fear and severe unrest. But the initial joy did not last long: on the same day, the retreating rebels entered Bocaranga with 31 vehicles. There they attacked the mission station of the Capuchins, where some 2,500 refugees were sheltering at that time.

120 spent cartridge cases were found in the house

 © ACN/AED


© ACN/AED

“It was an apocalyptic day,” Polish Capuchin priest Robert Wnuk describes what happened. “Shooting and detonations could be heard everywhere. There were numerous groups of 10-15 rebels each. They forced their way into all the rooms. The refugee women were sitting there on the floor with their children.  The rebels threatened the priests and also fired on the church,” Father Robert reports. “They fired and fired and fired as if they were crazy.”

The bullets left large holes in the walls and floors and later, 120 spent cartridge cases were found in the house. A woman and a man had died, and one of the friars was wounded. A doctor was struck in the face, and a bullet narrowly missed his head.  The rebels stole all the cars and took money, computers, telephones and cameras.  Then they moved on to the Sisters’ convent where the same scenario was repeated. Ngaoundaye Ngaoundaye Ngaoundaye On the same day, rebels also attacked the mission in Ngaoundaye, where they took a locally-born friar hostage, but later released him. The following day they looted the Capuchins’ mission station in Ndim.

Father Robert cannot believe what took place in his mission station amidst the many helpless refugees: “These are war crimes, crimes against humanity! Crimes against defenceless women and children! The perpetrators are now in Chad, which although it has closed its borders evidently lets armed criminals enter the country in cars that they stole from the missions and aid organizations.”Ngaoundaye Ngaounda

 

And in his desperation and disappointment he asks himself questions. “Protective troops have been in the country for some months. But in reality they are only in Bangui. They supposedly came to protect the civilian population. For many days we have asked the military authorities in Bangui and Bouar for help, but we always get the same answer: ‘Let’s see, we’ll see what happens, we have made a note of it…’ They give replies like this during a military intervention? They ask us on the telephone for information about the situation on the ground, and then nobody responds. Nobody! How far can the suffering go?” 

 A climate full with hate and violence explodes

Meanwhile, the Séléka have also withdrawn from Bozoum. Even shortly beforehand, the rebels had burned down 1,300 houses in the close vicinity, making 6,000 people homeless. In the now empty Séléka barracks there are slogans on the wall such as: “This is the law of Hell,” signed by somebody calling himself, “The Devil Incarnate.”

“The UNO decision in favour of a military intervention came too late,” criticizes Father Aurelio Gazzera who has been working in the Central African Republic for twenty years. “The eight-month reign of terror by the Séléka has created a climate of hatred and vengeance which has exploded into mad and demonic rage that is directed against everybody: against the Muslims, many of whom had profited from the Séléka and let themselves be protected by the rebels to avenge themselves, and the rest of the population, who are often seen by the Muslims as accomplices of the Anti-Balaka.”

The Italian Carmelite priest explains that to present the Anti-Balaka as “Christian militia,” as is often done is a mistake. “There is not much about them that is Christian,” he explains. “They carry fetishes and amulets for protection, and they are full of anger after having to endure long months of assaults and violence. An explosion of madness has taken place. There are arbitrary killings; disabled people are left behind, and so on. We need a strong military presence in the whole district to stop the crazy murders!”

 ACN-20140130-04718

The missionary, who conducts peace negotiations with all population groups in Bozoum, reports that the discussions have been made more difficult by the fact that many supporters of the Anti-Balaka have drunk a lot of alcohol and thus become unpredictable. In many places the Church is now also protecting the Muslims who are living in fear of vengeance. Thus for example, Father Aurelio is providing the Muslim refugees with drinking water and rice at his own expense, and attempting to prevent the Anti-Balaka from massacring the Muslims, and at least sparing the women and children.

During the Séléka’s withdrawal, Father Aurelio Gazzera himself was almost killed when several outraged Muslims attacked him with stones and weapons. But a Séléka rebel and another Muslim protected him and saved his life. Meanwhile, in the city of Bozoum, rumours were spreading that the priest was dead. When he reached his mission in the evening in his smashed-up car, the people cried for joy. “They spread their clothes in front of my car, and greeted me almost as if I were the Messiah. It was unbelievable. We gave thanks by saying an Ave Maria – also for those who commit evil.” 

Many more prayers will still be required for those who commit evil. In Bossemptélé, where 80 people were killed this week and the Séléka even looted the hospital of the Camillian Fathers, the Anti-Balaka has meanwhile demanded ransom money from the Carmelite Sisters. The Sisters have been told that if they fail to pay it within two days they must hand over the Muslim civilians who have sought shelter in the mission. Otherwise the members of the Anti-Balaka themselves will force their way into the convent premises and kill the Muslims.

The violence spirals faster and faster. And a humanitarian disaster looms, because the situation in the country is resulting in many more malnourished children .

ACN-20140130-04723And yet, there are hopeful moments: “In Bozoum the children are now able to go back to school again,” says Father Aurelio happily. And there are also small miracles: A catechist had fixed a rosary to a door lock. The rebels didn’t dare to break the door open during their looting debauchery. But the greatest miracle is the courage with which, day by day, Catholic priests and members of religious orders set their own lives against the whirlpool of violence. They try to save what can be saved.

“Ciao, now I must go to the refugees,” says Father Beniamino Gusmeroli. Because for the missionaries, their brave service is the most normal thing in the world.

Coming up:

And yet, at the heart of this drama, lives an event whose love story is worthy of being told around the entire world so as to give hope.  An even where union reigns within disorder, where the celebration of Mass echoes the sound of gunfire; where the faithful sing so loud that the sounds of rebellion fall into the depths of the Word; and where love gives birth, showing that it is more powerful than is war.

 Chronicle of a love story

© ACN/AED