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Central African Republic

 

ACN Success Story – Central African Republic (CAR)

17.07.2019 in ACN, ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, Africa, Central African Republic

ACN Success Story

Central African Republic (CAR)

Ongoing training in the diocese of Bouar

Published to the web Wednesday July 17,2019

Thanks to the support of our benefactors who have given $4,500, close to 40 diocesan priests and religious from the diocese of Bouar were able to participate in an ongoing formation session last March.

 

Given the country is suffering such violence and extreme problems in the Central African Republic, it is especially important to lend support and strength to priests. They are often the only ones who can really reach their people and help them not to lose hope.

The program included important pastoral issues such as marriage preparation, preparation for the sacraments, adult baptisms and the role of catechists in small and remote rural villages. At the same time, the priests were able to reflect on their own vocation and the importance of the priesthood, while additionally receiving training in a range of practical matters. Some topics such as bookkeeping, general administration and record keeping, all subjects essential and obligatory in every parish and institution, but for which many priests are often inadequately prepared.

 

The priests of the diocese have all benefited greatly from these days of sharing and ongoing formation and wish to express their gratitude to all our generous benefactors who made this meeting possible.

A facilitator found assassinated

Sadly, immediately after these beautiful and encouraging days, a terribly tragic incident occurred. A 47-year-old Capuchin, Father Toussaint Zoumalde, who had so recently given a talk on the priesthood and vocation, was murdered on his way home from the meeting.

 

This priest, who had originally come from the diocese of Bouar, but was currently serving as Provincial Superior of his order in Chad, had been planning to spend the night in Ngaoundere, Cameroon. He was stabbed to death by unknown assailants on his way home.

 “This priest who was so rich in the fine qualities of the Gospel and the beauty of the priestly order.”

Father Toussaint was a highly educated priest who had studied in Rome and been involved in the work of priestly formation. Friends and colleagues have described him as a fine and multi-talented individual with a profound soul and great love for the Church and the priesthood in particular.

A songwriter and poet, he had a wonderful way with young people, to whom he brought the Gospel message. He was previously responsible for the Catholic radio station in Bouar. In addition to his many other activities in Chad, he was the head of a cultural museum of the Mboum ethnic group. In their obituary for him the Capuchin Fathers wrote: “In killing him on the night of 19 March, the cowardly hand of his murderer knew nothing of the beauty and elegance of Brother Toussaint, this priest who was so rich in the fine qualities of the Gospel and the beauty of the priestly order.”

It was that just a few days after meeting with his fellow priests in Bouar, where Father Toussaint had given his confreres an inspiring and profound reflection on the priesthood, that his mortal remains were carried to their burial by his brother priests. Great mourning could be felt among all the people and the entire Church in the diocese. The words he had spoken at this meeting of the priests have thus become his lasting legacy.

In Central African Republic, the last words of an assassinated Capuchin priest, became a special legacy for forty or so priests whom you helped receive continuing education.

 

Central Africa Tuesday’s attack: The number of deaths increase

04.05.2018 in ACN France, ACN International, ACN PRESS, Africa, Africa, Central African Republic, Central African Republic (CAR), Emergency Aid, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau

Photo: Father Albert Toungoumalé-Baba

Central Africa Tuesday’s attack:

Number of dead increased

The attack on the parish of Our Lady of Fatima in Bangui, the capital of Central Africa, on Tuesday, May 1, reportedly killed more than 20 people, including Father Albert Toungoumalé-Baba. Initially, it was already known that 15 parishioners and Father Albert had been killed. Father Albert, who we met during an ACN delegation (it says AED) trip to Central African Republic , asked us for our continual prayers for peace in his country.

 

On May 1st, violence broke out once more in the Central African Republic. In the capital of Bangui, a group of armed men attacked the parish church of Our Lady of Fatima. Sixteen people were killed during the attack, including Father Albert Toungoumalé-Baba, and around one hundred people were injured. The fighting continued in the afternoon, costing two more Central Africans their lives and resulting in a fire that burned down a mosque.

Central African Republic, November/December 2015: Father Albert Tongoumalé-Baba, St Joseph Mukasa parish priest (on the left) with HE Mons Nzapalainga.

The archbishop of Bangui, Cardinal Dieudonné Nzapalainga, rushed to return to the Central African Republic today to make a statement about the attack. The people are still suffering from the aftermath of years of conflict and are now afraid that this will bring about another bout of violence.

In a statement released by MINUSCA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic) on May 1st, the member states of the G5 (United Nations, African Union, Economic Community of Central African States, European Union, France and the United States) condemned “without reservation the attacks on the Church of Our Lady of Fatima and the mosque of Lakounga,” pointing out that “the manipulation of religion to serve the interests of criminal groups is not acceptable.” They called upon Central Africans to “resist this manipulation, the goal of which is to drive the country back into the trap of violence and vengeance.”

 

Honouring Father Albert, “a man of peace”

ACN would like to honour the life’s work of Father Albert Toungoumalé-Baba, the priest of the St. Joseph Mukasa parish in Bangui. Father Albert worked tirelessly for peace in his country and gave shelter to thousands of refugees in his parish. In a short video from an interview ACN held with him in 2016, he says, “Our country has been a country bruised, in distress, since December 2012. Weapons have not yet managed to stop the war, but continue to be heard. … No one has been able to bring peace back to the country. Pray, pray unceasingly for us, as Jesus taught us. Do not despair. May this message be heard by all who love peace.”

Text and Informations: ACN-France

 

EMERGENCY AID:
Aid to the Church in Need will give over 37,000 dollars for the victims of Tuesday’s attack.
Thank you for donating by clicking the button below.
Thank you!

 


 

Central African Republic – The forgotten war in the heart of Africa

13.03.2018 in ACN International, Africa, Africa, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, By Maria Lozano, Central African Republic, Central African Republic (CAR), International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, War

Central African Republic:

“we were obliged to bury many people of all different religions”

 

The present situation in the Central African Republic, following five years of war and violence, is a profoundly distressing one. Speaking to the 37th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Bishop Juan José Aguirre-Muñoz of Bangassou described the country as a “failed state.” Ever since the arrival of the fundamentalist Islamic Seleka group in 2013, the country has been “without an army, without police, without a judicial system,” he said. The total absence of the state was demonstrated, he added, in the complete absence of any reaction on the part of the state in the face of the present and continuing threat of an attack on the city of Bangassou, in the southeastern part of the country, the city where he himself has been bishop for the past 17 years.

 

Bishop Aguirre was invited to Geneva on Wednesday, March 7, by the international Catholic charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) to speak at an event devoted to the religious minorities in armed conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. In his intervention the Spanish bishop, who is 63 years old and has been working for 38 years as a missionary in the Central African Republic, pleaded for better “control and security on the borders” of the country, since at the present time they were being freely crossed by “criminals of every kind, who are sacking, destroying and laying waste to” the country, which was effectively “in the hands of mercenaries.” And he appealed at the same time for action against the sale of arms.

 

The origins of the crisis are economic

The CAR currently holds the unenviable distinction of being in the very last place in the world on the UN’s Human Development Index. The list of its woes is a long one, the bishop explained:

“The people are tired, abandoned, left to themselves. Entire neighbourhoods have been razed to the ground because the Muslim mercenaries have used fire as a weapon of war. Almost a million refugees are currently sheltering in the Congo. Over half the population is in need of food aid, and infant mortality has increased considerably as a result of the war and violence. The educational system has not been functioning for years, and the health system is non-existent. Our medical centre in the north of the diocese has been destroyed, along with our mission. Now nothing is left but the foundations.”

In the face of these overwhelming difficulties, Bishop Aguirre appealed to ACN: “We need your prayers, that the Lord may help us to discern the path we should take in order to be able to emerge from the crisis we are in,” he said.

 

Bishop Juan Jose Aguirre in Bangassou and Auxiliary Bishop Jesus Ruiz Molina

The forgotten war in the heart of Africa

The bishop, who is a Comboni missionary, called on all those involved in the communications media to tell people about this “forgotten war in the heart of Africa.”.And he asked for something more besides: “Please make this forgotten war your own concern too.” At the same time, however, Bishop Aguirre urged people not to see this war as “a religious crisis,” because those who have lived through it right from the beginning know that it is the result of a “purely economic problem, though undoubtedly with religious consequences.” Among other things, the bishop insisted that “the extraction of diamonds, gold, uranium and petroleum, the trade in hardwoods and the complex issue of transhumance” were “the real reasons behind our disputes.” He suspects “interest groups” of being behind the gross manipulation of information, together with the sad revelation that there are commercial interests actually taking advantage of the crisis.

 

The critical situation in regard to interreligious dialogue

For Bishop Aguirre, the hardest and saddest part of the picture is the situation with regard to interreligious dialogue at the present time. “Despite the great efforts that the Christian and Muslim leaders are making throughout the country, the real situation today is a critical one,” he said. Not only because some of these leaders themselves have been attacked or threatened, but also because “the hatred is growing between Muslim and non-Muslim groups, as are the reactions of religious intolerance on both sides.”

Central Africa Republic Bangassou: “During attacks in the Diocese of Bangassou: 30 Muslims died, 20 non-Muslims, two Imams, women and children. We make a common grave. Only inside the pit is peace”.

 

Speaking of the difficult situation faced by his own priests, who for months now have been sheltering hundreds of Muslims in the grounds of the cathedral and at the same time risking their own lives in an effort to mediate with the frenzied and violent groups of the so-called ‘anti-balaka’, the bishop explained, “We have held out the hand of friendship to those who attacked us, because that is what the Church does.” And he sadly acknowledges that “in the midst of so much violence we were obliged to bury many people of all different religions, and so it was there, in a common grave, that they were finally united again. In peace.”

 

Despite everything, Bishop Aguirre is convinced that the only solution is to “continue working for reconciliation, justice, peace and forgiveness, so as to disarm people’s hearts.”

 

Aid to the Church in Need has been helping the people of the Central African Republic ever since the beginning of the crisis. In 2017, ACN supported some 30 separate pastoral aid projects in the country, giving a total of over $ 936.200.


 

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.

ACN Project of the Week: The Church remains in CAR

23.11.2017 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Africa, Central African Republic, Central African Republic (CAR), Journey with ACN

Central African Republic

The Church remains and provides support

 

Sadly, the Central African Republic has never truly known peace. In the 57 years since it gained independence, this country – one of the poorest in the world – has suffered one military coup after another. It is hard to keep track of all the different armed groups in the country today. Their names may differ but the crimes they commit are the same everywhere they go:  looting, burning, raping, abducting, murdering.

 

Since 2013, the country has effectively been in a state of civil war. Although the situation in Bangui, the capital, is largely stable, the rest of the country is still in the hands of various rebel groups who have since split still further. The government – which even in “normal” times was unable to provide the people with even a minimum of schooling, health care, security, law and order – is now almost totally absent. The civil authorities and the police were often the first to save their own skins in the face of the advancing rebel forces. Only the Church remains.

 

Many Catholic priests and religious have risked their lives trying to protect the defenseless civilian population. Many of them were themselves threatened with guns, a number, abducted, and some of them even murdered. However, to this day they continue to open the doors of their churches and mission stations, providing shelter, regardless of religion or ethnicity, to civilians whose villages and towns have been attacked, costing them everything but the clothes on their backs. The Catholic Church has always been, and continues to be, a constant voice for peace and reconciliation.

Photo Bishop Cyr-Nestor Yapaupa in his diocese

Relying on God – looking to the Church

In May and June 2017, the diocese of Alindao in the south of the country was the scene of heavy fighting between warring armed groups. In the town of Alindao itself around 150 people were killed. These people, who even before the conflict were already desperately poor and living from hand to mouth, have now, lost everything. They cannot return to their homes for the time being, for the threat from the rebels is still too serious and the killings and acts of violence persist.

 

The people can only put their trust in God, and they look to the Church for everything, since they can expect practically no help from any other source. “The Church has to provide for everything, since the State has failed,” says Bishop Cyr-Nestor Yapaupa sadly. People know that they can count only on God and on the Church. One man commented, “We are hoping the fighting will end soon, so that we can finally return home. Everywhere else, people are being helped, but here no one seems interested in our difficult situation. God is our only protection; that is why we go to Mass every day to ask God to hear us and help us in our situation. Fortunately, the Catholic Church is also there for us. The bishop is on the front line of the efforts to resolve this crisis.”

 

For now though, the bishop needs help to care for these refugees, among whom there are many children. He is counting on the generosity of our benefactors to fill his empty hands, so that he can provide the barest necessities for the 3,000 refugees under his care. We know we are not going to disappoint him, because we are confident of receiving your support and have already given emergency aid of $43,800.

If you would like to contribute to supporting a similar
project funded by ACN, please click to donate!

 

 

 


 

ACN Project of the Week – Central African Republic and Cameroon

16.08.2017 in ACN Canada, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, Cameroon, Central African Republic

Central African Republic and Cameroon

Help for the formation of 39 young Carmelites

Some people already know, quite early on in their lives who they want to be.

At the age of five, young Jean-Thierry Ebogo from Cameroon was already sure that he wanted to be a priest. To him, being a priest was nothing less than “being Jesus.” So, when he joined the Carmelite Order in 2003 at the age of 21, it seemed as though his dreams were close to being fulfilled!

 

But Providence had other plans. After just a year, a malignant tumour was discovered on his right leg. He was told that even amputation was not enough to stop the spread of the disease. By the time he got to Italy for treatment in 2005, the cancer had already metastasized.

 

On 8 December 2005, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, he was granted special permission to take his permanent vows in his hospital room. His only worry was whether he would still have time to be ordained into the priesthood. He bore the severe pain with a smile, offering it up for priestly and religious vocations. “I only want to be healed in order to become a priest,” he said. But his life‘s dream was not to be fulfilled, for he died soon afterwards, at the age of just 23. By then, his reputation of holiness had already spread, and a vast number of people came to his funeral. His beatification process was concluded at the diocesan level in 2014.

 

 

Persevering and courageous youth

Before he died, young Jean Thierry Ebogo had promised to gift Africa with a veritable “rain” of priestly vocations. It seems that he has kept his word, for the Order of the Discalced Carmelites in Cameroon and above all in the neighbouring Central African Republic is blossoming with numerous priestly vocations today.

 

In the desperately poor Central African Republic (a country that only makes the international headlines because of repeated violence and unrest), 27 young Carmelite novices are now responding to the call of God and preparing to take their permanent vows as well as for ordination into the priesthood. These men want to give their lives so that peace becomes a reality in their country. In Cameroon as well, where Jean-Thierry Ebogo was born, there are another 12 young men undergoing formation.

In the Central African town of Bouar, Father Cyriaque Soumbou, a member of the formation team for future priests and religious, says: “It is a joy to see these young men who, in the midst of all the adversities in daily life and despite all the challenges, are endeavouring to give meaning and purpose to their own lives by allowing themselves to be led by the Holy Spirit in seeking to discern the will of God. These young seminarians are like precious pearls to me, they are a reason for thanksgiving, because they are the future of the Theresian Carmel.” He himself had been drawn, even as a child, by the solitude and prayer of the Carmelites, but at the same time also by the joy of living together in community and the devotion of oneself to the service of others. All these things he had seen in the Italian missionaries who had brought the Carmelite Order to his country and who are still working there to this day. “I am quite certain that this inner joy is not the fruit of human effort, but that it is Jesus who unites us,” he says. “How gentle is the hand of the Lord who wishes to accompany me. The teaching of Saint Teresa of Avila is always clear: what counts in the religious life is humility. We must never trust in our own strength but only in the grace of God.”  This is also how Father Cyriaque describes his own personal experience.

 

ACN is providing 35 478 dollars for this academic year, to help these 39 young Carmelite novices in Bangui, Bouar and Yaoundé continue with their important formation.

 

 

 


 

ACN Interview – Central African Republic

16.06.2017 in ACN International, ACN Interview, ACN Intl, By Jürgen Liminiski, Central African Republic
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC /  DIOCESE OF ALINDAO

Central African Republic

“We weep for our abandoned children!”

Bishop Cyr-Nestor Yapaupa of Alindao, Central African Republic, at the ACN National office in Rome, October 2015

Jürgen Liminski interviews Mons. Cyr-Nestor YAPAUPA, bishop of the Diocese of Alindao in the Central African Republic, for Aid to the Church in Need International (ACN) about the new clashes between factions of the Seleka and the Anti-balaka still present in the region. The violence erupted on May 8,  in response to the abduction and murder of several young people in Datoko by the Seleka. Following the intervention of UN troops, the situation has calmed down, for the moment. Nevertheless there are still around 5,000 refugees, who are currently being cared for in various centres of the Catholic Church.


Interview text :  Jürgen Liminiski, ACN International
Adapted by : Amanda Bridget Griffin

ACN: Is it possible to speak of a normalization of the situation in the country, since the political accords?

Bishop Cyr-Nestor YAPAUPA : The simple truth is that we cannot speak of a general normalization of the situation in our country since the outbreak of the crises that have shaken us ever since 2012 and up to the present day. If from time to time and from place to place we have occasionally observed a temporary calming of the situation, here and there and in certain regions, these are nonetheless very ephemeral. There is no lack of fresh outbreaks of violence, creating new crises. More or less the majority of our country is infested with the presence of armed individuals who are a threat to the freedom of our citizens.

How do people live, and on what, in your diocese? Where do they get their food, water, milk?

The people in my diocese essentially live on the local agricultural produce; food from hunting and fishing having become very rare in recent times. As a result there is a risk of a food crisis, which we are already beginning to see. The people are no longer able to cultivate their fields safely, and the reserves and food stores of these country people have been ransacked, pillaged and even burned. As far as water is concerned, the majority of the people depend on man-made wells and boreholes, while others depend on natural water sources such as the rivers. The occasional modern water supply systems serve only a tiny proportion of the population. I can certainly tell you, however, that in the current crisis access to drinking water is is extremely difficult, not to say critical, since the climate of insecurity has made it very dangerous to approach the water sources. Some form of medical intervention is needed to detoxify some of these water supplies from natural sources or man-made wells; this would be of great benefit to the people’s health.

 

Are you getting any help from the international organisations? From the NGOs? From the Church?

Sadly, I have to tell you first of all that the crisis we are facing today seems to be very little known about, since it receives less media attention than what is happening elsewhere (in Bangui, Bangassou, Bria, Bambari etc.). And since our particular crisis has received so little media attention, how can we expect to get the aid we need from the international organisations? The Church here in my diocese is fighting alone to provide the barest minimum to live on for the refugees and displaced, through the Caritas network and CORDAID. But I can only tell you in all honesty that conditions are extremely precarious still and our resources very much inadequate for effectively helping all these unfortunate people.

 

Are the schools able to function still?

Even in normal times we were concerned about the schools in our area. We worked unstintingly for the education of the young. But now we face the double sorrow of finding all our efforts blocked by this wind of violence and our children unable to go to school at present. All the schools are closed now. We weep for our abandoned children! But nevertheless we are hoping for a lease of new life so that we can try and quickly establish something for them. I will be very grateful for anyone who can help us in this direction, so that we can give our children one more chance to catch up.

 

ACN: What are relations like between the Christians and the Muslims in your diocese of Alindao?

First of all I can tell you that my diocese is one of the parts of the country that still has Central African citizens of every religion, all mixed up together, including the Muslims. In this diocese the Christians, both Catholics and Protestants, all lived in perfect harmony with the Muslims. Proof of this is the fact that in almost all the sub prefectures of the region that coincide with my diocese there are organisations known as religious platforms which aim is to maintain links between the religions and consolidate the social peace between the different groups.

The big surprise was to find that during these events some Muslims behaved as persecutors towards some of their Christian brethren. This has certainly affected the bonds of mutual confidence that have hitherto always prevailed. But we intend to do all we can to work to repair this unexpected gulf and promote the path of dialogue and mutual respect, so that we can re-establish confidence.

 

How many sisters and priests are caring for the refugees?

In my diocese we only have priest at the moment. The sisters left the diocese following the events of 2013 and have not returned. It is impossible for them. With the priests and the other Church personnel we are ten people in all, and we organize ourselves to manage the ongoing work of the diocese, added to which today there is this humanitarian crisis which demands our support, based on our sense of evangelical commitment.

 

What is on people’s minds, what is talked about?

According to discreet soundings taken by my priests among the faithful after Mass, it appears that the crisis in Alindao is much marginalised. According to the opinions people have shared with us at this time it is only the Catholic Church that has grasped the full consequences of the situation and is struggling to provide its victims with security, protection, food and basic care.

Here is one such statement: « You have done enough! », said one Catholic parishioner to the priest who had celebrated Mass that day. « If there is no outside aid to support your efforts, then we know that no one can do the impossible. We are praying that these events will quickly come to an end so that we can soon return home. They are helping people everywhere else, but here they show no interest in our particular crisis. Our only refuge is God; that is why we come to Mass every day to ask God’s aid in our situation. Fortunately the Catholic Church is there for us. The bishop is a central figure in finding a solution to this crisis. »

 

And how about the children?

As you know, our children normally have various activities to shape the pattern of their day. In ordinary times their day is divided between school (for those who attend), working in the fields (for the children of the country people) and games and play for all of them after their various other activities. But in the conditions we face today the tensions for our children are very serious as they confront the problem of the violence that is forcing their parents to flee and disrupting their own normal daily activities. One wonders what impact this situation may have on the mental landscape of these children who find themselves brutally transported to these makeshift camps where the sound of gunfire never ceases to thunder around them.

To sum up, the children remain confined beneath the wings of their frightened parents. Together with my priests I often travel to visit the refugees in order to cheer up the parents and their children and give them fresh hope, but the anxiety is still very strong. Obviously, the children need lots of space and freedom to run about in, but sadly they have not the means to do so in this time of crisis. Hence the urgent need to create a space for them where they can play, and above all a makeshift school in which we can very urgently convey to them a spirit of peace and quickly drive from their spirits the tendency to violence, hatred or revenge. For as you know, children’s minds are very quick to remember events, simplistically, and react to them rather than discerning more deeply.

 

The foundation Aid to the Church in Need is in contact with Mons. Cyr-Nestor Yapaupa and asks for support and donations to assist the Diocese in the emergency situation in which it now finds itself. 

 


 

ACN Interview – Central African Republic

21.03.2017 in ACN Interview, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Eva-Maria Kolmann, Central African Republic

Central African Republic

“It was almost like the visit from the Pope”

Cardinal Dieudonné Nzapalainga, the Archbishop of Bangui, is currently travelling through in his country of the Central African Republic in the month of February.

While there, from 22 to 24 of February, he visited the parish of Bozoum and the town of Bocaranga, where only recently, there was serious violence. The Cardinal’s program also included talks with the rebels. Father Aurelio Gazzera, the parish priest of Bozoum, accompanied the Cardinal. Later, on 26 February, he spoke to Aid to the Church in Need about this visit.

 

By Eva-Maria Kolmann, ACN Internaltional

 


ACN: What was your experience of the visit by Cardinal Nzapalainga to your parish in your diocese?

Father Aurelio Gazzera: The Cardinal‘s visit reminded me a little of the visit by the Pope to Bangui a year ago. The joy and the hopes of the people that it inspired were very great! The people gave the Cardinal an overwhelming welcome. Even along the 125 km stretch that we travelled with the Cardinal on his journey from Bozoum to Bocaranga, he had to stop in every village, since the people were already waiting for him along the roadside and wanted to hear a word from him and receive his blessing. It was profoundly moving to see how greatly the people genuinely wanted to listen to the Cardinal. And this listening, I truly believe and hope, was for many of them the beginning of a new journey, just as for many people the words of the Pope were when he visited our country in November 2015.

 

ACN: You also took part, together with the Cardinal, in two meetings with the rebels of the Antibalaka. What can you tell us about them?

Father Aurrelio Gazzera: The rebels were armed, some of them with ordinary home-made guns they had fashioned out of water pipes, and others with Kalashnikovs. During the war, the Antibalaka were the opponents of the Seleka rebels. Since then they have become a mixed group of men who initially took up arms to protect their families and their villages, but to which a number of youths have now attached themselves who seek to profit from the situation and live by robbery and extortion. To them the Cardinal addressed a calm but emphatic invitation to change their lives and not allow themselves to be fooled by material things and money, and above all not to allow themselves to be led astray by those who were urging them on to violence, only to later abandon them.

 

ACN: You yourself are very experienced in negotiating with armed groups, and in fact you have already on several occasions succeeded in persuading rebel groups to withdraw, thereby preventing a bloodbath and protecting the civilian population. You were also able to speak to the rebels on this occasion. What did you say to them?

Father Aurelio Gazzera: I invited them to reflect on the fact that those who sow violence will themselves harvest nothing else but death. And I said that the time had now come to start thinking of rebuilding. I also urged them to think about the fact that in reality they were merely serving the interests of unscrupulous people of whom they themselves would be the first victims! And often they do not think of the consequences of their actions, when they cause destruction, exploit other people and burn down houses.

 

ACN: Do you believe that these meetings with the rebels will have achieved anything?

Father Aurelio Gazzera: Generally speaking, it seemed to me that the men were listening quite attentively, and at least some of them appeared to feel the longing to seek new ways of peace and change their lives. It will take time, but when someone is willing to talk about things, it is always a big step forward and one that can lead to a change.

 

ACN: The city of Bocaranga was only recently the scene of violent attacks. The journey there cannot have been without danger…

Father Aurelio Gazzera: Yes, on February 2, nomads of the Fulbe tribe killed 21 people there and wounded several dozen others. They burnt down the marketplace and many of the shops, looted the offices of several aid agencies and generally spread fear and terror around them. The UN troops did nothing to stop them, though they had been informed of the situation.

So the Cardinal‘s visit was the first happy and joyful occasion following these terrible events. Nonetheless, going there was an act that called for great courage on the part of the Cardinal. The forces of order were completely absent, and on the way there I myself drove ahead of the Cardinal‘s vehicle so that I could get there first and identify and resolve any potential security problems. Thanks be to God, everything went well, even though the armed rebels of the Antibalaka were roaming around, and we also had to pass through a rebel roadblock, 5 km before the city. However, for their part this was more a demonstration of their own power than the intention to really do anything bad.

 

ACN: What was the most important message of the Cardinal?

Father Aurelio Gazzera: I would say that his most important messages were these: first, “Have trust in God; do not fear!” This was also in fact the message of that day‘s Gospel reading. And then, “Take a more farsighted view and do not limit yourselves to looking for satisfaction in material things but have a long-term vision! That will make it possible to have a new country, a new life for everyone!”

 

ACN: In a country suffering from armed conflicts, extreme poverty and the total failure of the state, the Church has an important role to play. Did the Cardinal also speak about the role of the Church, and in particular that of the priests and religious?

Father Aurelio Gazzera: There was a very intense and moving moment in Bocaranga when we had gathered together along with the Cardinal in the Sisters‘ chapel with around 20 religious from various different mission stations. Among them were very young novices, Sisters who had just taken their permanent vows, right through to elderly missionaries who had been working in the Central African Republic for 40 years and more. All of them remained at their posts, especially during these four years of war – despite the threats, the attacks and lootings, the attempts at intimidation. The Cardinal emphatically expressed the gratitude of the Church and of the people for this continuing perseverance, despite the war. And he told us about something that happened in a parish in Bangui at the height of the war. One man said to him, “I stayed put, because I could see the light burning in the Sisters‘ convent. And I knew that if they were staying, then I could stay as well!”

It is true that the Church is doing a great deal. She is building schools, hospitals, churches, chapels… Then there is the work she does in bearing witness and raising her voice. But, the most beautiful thing of all is simply being at the side of the people. Having the doors of our parishes and mission stations open to everyone who was, or is, in need. This too is evangelization. It means making the presence and the love of God the Father concretely visible!

 

ACN: This last year, with help from ACN, you have been able to renovate and enlarge your parish church in Bozoum, in which you welcomed the Cardinal. How important is this church to you and to the faithful?

Father Aurelio Gazzera: For us it was a great joy to be able to welcome the Cardinal in our “new” church. The fact that we were able to make this dream reality was thanks in large measure to the generosity of ACN‘s benefactors. But I also took pains to emphasize that every one of the faithful in our parish should himself contribute a little piece of his heart and his faith towards the building, and a great many of them helped bring sand, stone, gravel and food by way of a contribution. The building of a church is a very important moment for a Christian community, but not only for them. Even many people who weren‘t even Christians wanted to make a little contribution or at least show a gesture of sympathy, and this was something very special and very moving for us.
We wanted our church to look beautiful – very beautiful – for beauty speaks of dignity. And at this moment in the Central African Republic it is extremely necessary to rediscover the dignity of every individual human being. The beauty of the Church must reflect the beauty of God and with it our own beauty as Catholic faithful. It reflects our being Christian! We are very grateful to everyone who has helped us to make this miracle a reality!

 


  1. Anti-balaka: Animist and Christian rebels, means machete proof in Sango; favours the Christians who are more of a sedentary group.
  1. Seleka: A name meaning ‘coalition’ in Sango one of CAR’s two national languages (including French). A rebel group favouring mainly Muslims who are nomadic and herders.
However, the situation is far more complex and clouded than described here.

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin 


 

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.


 

ACN PROJECT OF THE WEEK – Help for training of vocations in Central African Republic

03.12.2015 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Central African Republic, FORMATION

Central African Republic

Help for the training of 35 young Carmelite brothers

 

Since he was a little boy, Jean-Thierry Ebogo had just one dream: he wanted to become a priest, in order to be “like Jesus,” and nothing less. Sadly, his dream was not to be fulfilled, for this young Carmelite friar from Cameroon died January 5, 2006, at the young age of 24. But the holiness of his life and death were to sow the seeds of numerous new vocations.

 

In 2003 this young man entered the Carmelite monastery of Nkoabang where he engaged faithfully the “Little Way” of Saint Therese of Lisieux, the way of holiness through perfect childlike trust in God’s Mercy. To his religious name he added an additional title “of the Child Jesus and of the Passion.”

 

This passion soon afterward became a reality in his own life, but one short year after his entry into the order, a malignant tumour was discovered on his right knee. The leg had to be amputated and a course of chemotherapy was undertaken, but in vain. Jean-Thierry endured his sufferings with extraordinary courage and even with joy. On December 8,2005, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, he took his permanent vows early, with special permission. He died just a month later, his sanctity widely acclaimed. The cause for his beatification has already been introduced.

 

Before his death Jean-Thierry had promised to pray from heaven for a “shower of solid and holy religious and priestly vocations” for the Carmelites in Africa. This young Carmelite seems to have kept his word, for not only in his own country of Cameroon but also in the neighbouring Central African Republic there has been a real flourishing of vocations since right about then. Now, 35 young men are preparing, in the various stages of their formation, to take their permanent vows and for their ordination to the priesthood.

Central African Republic, Convent of the Carmelite Fathers at Bangui: Christmas 2014 Procession of Carmelite Fathers with statue of the Infant Jesus. Each Father is carrying bags with Christmas gifts for the refugee children. Fr. Fr. Mesmin Martinus Dingbedji (left with statue of Baby Jesus), Fr. Matteo Pesce (in the centre), Fr. Federico Trinchero: right. Used as Illustration for the Internet Project CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC / NATIONAL 15/00137 PrID: 1501487

Central African Republic, Convent of the Carmelite Fathers at Bangui: Christmas 2014 Procession of Carmelite Fathers with statue of the Infant Jesus. Each Father is carrying bags with Christmas gifts for the refugee children. Fr.  Mesmin Martinus Dingbedji (left with statue of Baby Jesus), Fr. Matteo Pesce (in the centre), Fr. Federico Trinchero: right.

This wealth of vocations is a blessing, of course, but at the same time it represents a challenge for the Carmelite order, since the Central African Republic is one of the poorest countries in the world and has also been afflicted by violent unrest. As a result, the grounds of the Carmelite monastery in the capital Bangui have been turned into one of the largest refugee camps in the city. Thousands of refugees have sought shelter here – following the most recent unrest in October 2015, in fact, their numbers have once again grown to around 10,000 making it a challenge for the Carmelites to find the resources to pay for the training of these new vocations. These young men not only need to be fed, clothed and medically provided for, but they also need books, computers, writing material and many other things.

 

Italian Carmelite Father Federico Trinchero, who is responsible for the training of the young brothers in Bangui, writes: “For our young men, these refugees are a veritable training in the spirit of the Gospel.” And yet the needs are great, and the financial challenges considerable. Nonetheless, it is vital to ensure the best possible formation of these young African vocations, since it is in their hands that the future of the Church in their country will rest.

donateACN has supported this project  with a contribution of $31,000 to ensure these 35 young Carmelite brothers continue their training.  

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