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.
“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
“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!”
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 .
And 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.
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