Missionary priest in Central African Republic injured in land mine explosion has foot amputated

Father Norberto Pozzi Father Norberto Pozzi. | Credit: ACN

An Italian-born Catholic priest has undergone numerous grueling surgeries, eventually losing his foot, after he sustained injuries in a land mine explosion in the Central African Republic (CAR).

The Catholic pontifical and charity foundation Aid to the Church in Need International (ACN) reported that Father Norberto Pozzi, a 71-year-old member of the Discalced Carmelite Fathers, was injured when the car he was traveling in drove over a mine, causing it to explode, on his way to Bocaranga, a city northwest of CAR’s capital, Bangui.

According to the charity foundation, Pozzi was the only passenger who was seriously injured in the car he was traveling in during the Feb. 10 incident.

In a Wednesday, Feb. 15, report, ACN noted that the missionary Catholic priest ministering in CAR “has already undergone several emergency surgical operations,” adding: “In the most recent one, on Monday [Feb. 13], doctors were even forced to amputate his left foot.”

The foundation said the other occupants of the vehicle, including a French Carmelite brother and a catechist, suffered only minor injuries.

The charity foundation reported about Pozzi: “His state of health, with multiple fractures, required a great deal of care, and the intervention of the military of the U.N. force present in the region was requested, which transported the missionary by helicopter to the capital of the Central African Republic, Bangui, located about 400 kilometers [250 miles] away.”

Pozzi reportedly underwent a delicate three-hour surgical procedure in which doctors tried to save his injured left foot.

With other surgeries unsuccessful, the priest was transported to the U.N. hospital in Entebbe, Uganda, where he underwent another operation on Feb. 13.

At the hospital in Uganda, unfortunately, the doctors “had to amputate his left foot,” ACN reported, noting that the accident occurred just over 12 miles from Bozoum, in the Diocese of Bouar, where the oldest Carmelite mission in CAR is located.

Pozzi reportedly arrived in CAR as a missionary in 1980. At the time he was still a layman and worked as a land surveyor and bricklayer for eight years in the Carmelite missions in the African country. He later returned to Italy to be ordained a priest and returned to CAR in 1995.

The mission of Bozoum, from where Pozzi left for the trip he was on when the accident occurred, is the oldest Carmelite presence in CAR, ACN noted in the Feb. 15 report. The mission began on Dec. 16, 1971, with the arrival of the first four missionaries: Fathers Agostino Mazzocchi, Niccolò Ellena, Marco Conte, and Carlo Coencio.

According to the charity foundation, which supports the people of God in troubled countries, the presence of land mines on CAR roads is a clear sign of the “atmosphere of great violence” in the country.

The height of violence in CAR was the 2013 removal of then President François Bozizé from power by the Seleka groups, which are majorly Muslim. “Since then, the Central African Republic has hardly known days of peace,” ACN said.

“The Seleka did not only remove the president from power,” the charity foundation said. “They also provoked a huge wave of violence that is still present almost a decade later.”

“In the face of the Selekas’ brutality, self-defense groups, known as the Anti-Balaka, sprang up everywhere. Chaos ensued,” ACN reported.

The pontifical charity foundation blamed the violence in CAR on the country’s vast mineral deposits, which have attracted dangerous mercenaries.

The mineral wealth, ACN said, has provoked greed and feeds conflicts “sometimes commanded from very distant countries.”

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“The Russian mercenaries of the Wagner group, who currently play an important role in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, have also been present in the Central African Republic,” ACN claimed.

CAR is now characterized by violence, “by near civil war,” the charity foundation reported. “Despite this, Pope Francis did not fail to visit the country in late November 2015, in which he opened the Holy Door of the Bangui Cathedral, thus solemnly inaugurating the extraordinary jubilee of mercy.”

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Africa. It has been adapted by CNA.

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