CAR bishops establish day of prayer for victims of violence

Central Africans Credit Florent Vergnes  AFP  Getty Images Central Africans. | Florent Vergnes / AFP / Getty Images.

The bishops of the Central African Republic have set aside a day of mourning and a day of prayer for victims of ongoing violence in the country.

December 1 will be a day of mourning. The date is significant, as it marks the anniversary of the Central African Republic's establishment as a republic after French colonial rule.

In a communique, the bishops urged "men and women of good will to refrain from celebrating 1 December as a sign of mourning," according to Vatican News.

On the following day, the first Sunday of Advent, prayers will be held in memory of the victims of violence in the country. The bishops said all donations collected on this Sunday will be given to support victims and their families.

The prayer and mourning initiative was announced at a Nov. 26 press conference in Bangui.

Cardinal Dieudonné Nzapalainga, the archbishop of Bangui and president of the CAR bishops' conference, said the appeal is a response to ongoing violence and an attempt to raise awareness about the situation in the country.

"Following the unfortunate and repetitive events that have plunged Central African families into mourning since 2012, the most recent of which are those of Bangui, Bambari, Batangafo and Alindao, the Central African Bishops' Conference is holding its extraordinary session on 24 November 2018 and hereby issues this communiqué," he said, according to Vatican News.

The Central African Republic has suffered violence since December 2012, when several bands of mainly Muslim rebel groups formed an alliance, taking the name Seleka, and seized power.

In reaction to the Seleka's attacks, some Central Africans formed self-defense groups called anti-balaka. Some of these groups, mainly composed of Christians, began attacking Muslims out of revenge, and the conflict took on a sectarian character.

According to Reuters, the violence has displaced more than 1 million people and brought the country's food security to a level four in the international food security classification system, one step away from "famine." The U.N. humanitarian chief for CAR, Najat Rochdi, said nearly 3 million of the country's 4.6 million population are in need of aid. More than half of them are in desperate need.

"If the situation is remaining the same and people are not going back to work their fields... it means that, yes, in a very few years we will have a famine in Central African Republic," Rochidi said.

Recent acts of violence include the torching of several Christian internal displacement camps. At least 42 people – many of whom were refugees – died in a Nov.15 attack Thursday on the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Alindao.

At the press conference on Monday, Nzapalainga pointed to the Constitution of the Central African Republic, which states, "The human person is sacred and inviolable. All public officials, all organizations, have an absolute obligation to respect and protect it."

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