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Bishops' plea from the Central African Republic

I don't know much about the Central African Republic, where fighting among local militias has driven nearly a million people from their homes. Like most people, I've pretty much ignored the suffering that's been going on there.

But there is an opportunity find out more in a letter the bishops of the Central African Republic have issued in a call for peace. (Zenit carried it on Jan. 15.) They downplay the religious role in the conflict, fought between what news reports describe as Christian and Muslim militias, and say it is primarily political and military. Concerning Muslims, the bishops say:  

Our faith commits us to be at the heart of the battle for life and the promotion of human dignity. What are we doing with it at this moment of crisis? The temptation to seek vengeance is great. Muslims, rightly or wrongly accused of being accomplices of the seleka, have been delivered up to mob justice and executed without reason. Let us remember that life is sacred: "Thou shalt not kill" (Dt 5:17). Let justice be done according to the principles of the law.

Working together, Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga and Imam Imam Oumar Kobine Layama have tried to defuse the religious tensions. It's a brave mission for peace.

As the bishops point out, everyone is losing right now:

We present a deplorable picture of ourselves and of our country. We seem to be content to destroy what little infrastructure we still have left. The result is devastating. The country is laid low, like the rotten fruit that blankets the soil in our villages, while our people are scattered, wandering through the bush like wild animals. Far from the claims about the cementing of national unity, reinforcing social cohesion and good governance and the just distribution of the national wealth that were bandied about by the seleka coalition, in justification of the seizure of power, the country has instead been plunged into desolation. The roads are no longer maintained, the hospitals are destroyed or left devoid of medication and medical personnel. Those living with HIV AIDS no longer have access to the necessary drugs. The schools no longer exist. Now we are on our way towards a second lost year. Are we even aware of the children of schoolgoing age whom we are sacrificing on the altar of this crisis? The government administration is non-existent, the state employees are on strike and the young are unemployed. There is no sign of progress. There is no longer any guarantee of respect for the individual in his physical integrity and the protection of his goods. Killing has become a routine and anodyne action. We are sinking into a "culture of violence and death".

Above all, let us not delude ourselves. The fratricidal violence is making us still more vulnerable.

About the Author

Paul Moses, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015).



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Paul, thanks, I will pray for peace and stability.  Quite honestly, I don't know what else I can do.

By almost any measure used by the UN and organizations such as WHO, the CAR is one of the poorest and most underdeveloped countries in the world. It became independent from France in the 1950's, but a succession of awful leaders has done little to develop the country and inspire the people. Some will remember Jean-Bedel Bokassa, who seized power in the mid-60's and declared himself "President for Life." Aspiring to Napoleonic stature a few years later, he had himself crowned "Emperor Bokassa I" in a coronation ceremony that bled the country's already meager coffers. He fled the CAR when he was eventually deposed, but, inexplicably, rreturned home several years later, perhaps believing that he would be welcomed with open arms. Instead, he stood trial for corruption and other charges, in a case in which the charge of cannibalism was also leveled at him. The people of the CAR have suffered greatly over at least the last 60 years, and it appears their suffering will not be alleviated any time soon.  

The stories coming out of the CAR are a reminder to me about the Rwandan Genocide in 1994. It doesn't seem like that terrible time was 20 years ago. The world largely stood by while perhaps up to a million people were murdered in an inter-tribal rampage. Imaculee Ilibagiza, a Rwandan Catholic (now a U.S. citizen, I believe) tells her remarkable story of survival in her book "Left to Tell." Ilibagiza has also written a book about Our Lady of Kibeho, who is said to have appeared to numerous young people on multiple occasions at a girls' school in Kibeho, Rwanda, warning of a terrible upheaval in which many would die if people did not turn their attention to God and prayer. At least some of the Marian apparitions at Kibeho have been authenticated by the Church.  

In addition to the world's attention and help, the people in the CAR need prayer now, too, especially the archbishop and imam who so courageously stand together as exemplars of peaceful coexistence and mutual respect. 



And what are their fellow bishops in Nigeria saying about this?

I heard Ilibagiza speak; it was a really amazing story.  I find it terrifying that we know something of what  is happening in places like the Central African Republic, yet we stand by powerless.

It is a little encouraging  that our UN Ambassador, Samantha Power, has a strong background in human rights and genocide prevention and that she went personally to CAR last month.

Back in 1971, when I was living with my family in Taiwan, Bokassa paid a state visit to Taipei (the CAR in those days recognized Taiwan rather than the People's Republic, so that in Chiang Kai-shek's books, he was a good head of state). Of course he was a terrible tyrant even then, and I remember seeing the thousands of Chinese schoolchildren who'd been dragooned into attending the welcoming parade along Taipei's main street, holding up signs reading "Vive l'amitié Sino-Centrafricaine," as if any of them had ever heard of the place before (or knew a word of French).

I must say I've wondered about the western news media characterizing this as a Muslim-Christian conflict, suspecting that it's a rather simplistic way of describing a clash that is in reality far more complicated. Rather like referring to King Philip's War (1675-78) as Protestant v. Native Americans. Given my ignorance of Islam, I also wonder whether the media's descriptions of the Iraq fighting as Sunni v. Shia don't hide a lot of localisms and tribalisms that the media can't be bothered with.


Jim, it seems our politicians and the politician/tyrants in  some of the countries of Africa have some things in common.  If you cannot put aside self-interest for the common good, you can always gin up fear and hatred for the most marginalized in society and for those unlucky ones who are not members of your tribe.  It's a winner come election time. 

And now they have elected a woman to sort things out! Catherine Samba-Panza. I wish her very good luck -- she is going to need it.

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