Widespread violence in the Central African Republic which began in December is in risk of diffusing to nearby countries, an official with Aid to the Church in Need has warned.
“The situation is becoming steadily more dramatic. Torture, looting and the murder of civilians are continuing unabated, whole villages are being burnt down,” said Christine du Coudray, head of the charity's African section, in an Oct. 22 interview with Aid to the Church in Need.
“The country is sinking further and further into chaos, and there is a danger of a conflagration which could destabilize the whole region.”
The Central African Republic was engulfed in a war from 2004 to 2007, but violence broke out again in December, 2012. On March 24, 2013, Séléka rebels ousted the president, and installed their own leader in a coup.
The Séléka have since been officially disbanded, but its members continue to plunder the country through looting, torture and rape. The Central African Republic is among the world's poorest countries, with extremely low human development and major human rights abuses.
The Central African Republic borders the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, Chad, Sudan, and South Sudan. Of its population of 4.4 million, the United Nations estimates that hundreds of thousands have been displaced from their homes by this year's violence.
du Coudray welcomed an Oct. 10 United Nations Security Council resolution which opens a path for international intervention in the country which it has said is in danger of becoming a failed state. She called the resolution “the first glimmer of hope for a country which has been on the brink for months.”
“Public life does not function and the country is still being destroyed,” du Coudray said, adding that “schools are closed, wages and salaries are not being paid … even in the past it was almost exclusively the Church which took care of the population.”
That remains true today. In Bossangoa, a city 200 miles north of the capital, Bangui, some 30,000 people took refuge in an enclosed church compound, a director of Doctors Without Borders reported in The Guardian Oct. 17. The compound is a Roman Catholic mission.
The violence in the Central African Republic is in danger of becoming sectarian. du Coudray said many of the Séléka “come from the Sudan or Chad” and that a portion of them “are now importing Islamism, which has not existed in the country to date. Up to now the co-existence of Christians and Muslims has been good.”
Most Central Africans are Christian, though significant minorities practice indigenous religions or Islam. du Coudray explained that “the native Muslims do not want Islamists and are themselves victims of the attacks.” Séléka rebels have targeted Christians in several locales, according to an Oct. 9 report from Reuters.
du Coudray recounted that on Oct. 3, a car transporting Fr. Aurelio Gazzera, a Carmelite “was shot at by a member of the dissolved Séléka at a road block as it left” Bangui. She explained that this happened in front of police who “did nothing to stop the Séléka rebels' actions.”
“In the course of the same day the missionary was followed by cars containing a number of ex-rebels, who tried to cut him off,” du Coudray continued. “There are indications that this was an attempted abduction.”
“To put it briefly: Séléka can still make trouble completely without hindrance, and not only in remote villages, but in broad daylight in the country's capital.”
She said the Central African Republic “needs help … from aid organizations.” Caritas has launched an appeal for the country, and since 2002, Aid to the Church in Need has supported over 240 projects there, providing over $3.2 million in aid.
Aid to the Church in Need has provided for the safeguarding of priests and religious; the purchase of cars and motorcycles; the support of pastoral work; and the construction of infrastructure.
Aside from the Catholic charities Aid to the Church in Need and Caritas, many other nonprofits have withdrawn to Bangui, leaving the remainder of the country helpless. Doctors Without Borders reported in July that the country's health care system has collapsed. In parts of the Central African Republic, malaria cases have doubled in the past year.
“The people in the Central African Republic urgently need our prayers,” du Coudray urged. “We Christians have no other weapons than prayer! Let us take up the rosary and plea for peace and protection for this country's population.”
Yet, du Coudray added, “in the midst of suffering, death and despair there are also signs today that the Lord has not forgotten this country.”
She noted that Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga of Bangui recently ordained seven priests, and in his Sept. 29 homily, he said that “our faith in Jesus, the victor over evil, demands that we bear greater witness to the hope which lives within us.”
“The Church also bears witness to this hope on the Calvary of this country,” du Coudray concluded: “the hope for the resurrection which conquers death.”