Repair of a vehicle for the diocese of Bambari, following the rebel attacks.
The Central African Republic has a population that is mainly Christian and animist, together with a Muslim minority of around 15%. Relations between the various different religious communities have in the past always been peaceful. However, after the Muslim President Michel Djodotima came to power through a putsch on March 24, 2013, with the help of the overwhelmingly Muslim rebel coalition, the Seleka, the country was terrorised by between 20,000 and 25,000 rebels. They flooded into the towns and villages and above all into the dioceses, parishes and mission stations and simply helped themselves to whatever they wanted – cars, computers, medical supplies, fuel and food. Some of the dioceses were left without a single vehicle with which to carry out their pastoral work. All that the rebels did not take, they destroyed. Nor did they hesitate to ransack even the centres for the handicapped, or the orphanages. Everywhere they plundered, looted, raped, abducted, massacred.
Subsequently, however, the Central African Republic has become a tragic example of what can happen when one ethnic group within society – in this case the native Muslim population – is held collectively responsible for the atrocities of a small group among them. For although Christian and Muslim leaders did all they could to prevent hatred being fomented between the different religious groups, nevertheless, from autumn 2013 onwards an opposition movement, opposed to the Seleka, began to form under the name of the “anti-Balaka” (literally, “against the machetes”) – initially in order to protect the villages, but later growing ever larger and finally becoming completely out of control, engaging in mass revenge attacks against all Muslims. They are often falsely described in the media as “Christian militia”. However, the Church has always clearly distanced herself from them. In practice – as Church leaders continue to protest – they are generally mainly animist, or at most “Christian” only in name – which in this context means simply that they are non-Muslims.
By now the country has been divided de facto between the Seleka and the anti-Balaka, with the western part of the country largely controlled by the anti-Balaka and the eastern part by the Seleka. There continue to be outbreaks of violence, and the situation is very unstable. However, to this day the situation continues to be at its worst in the border region, midway between the two areas controlled by the two different factions.
It is here that the diocese of Bambari is situated. In July 2014 there was a massacre here, when the rebels of the Seleka group launched an attack on the grounds of the Catholic cathedral, where at least 12,000 refugees were sheltering at the time. They murdered more than 20 people and abducted a further 20. They also did great damage, setting fire to many of the vehicles of the diocese. This was in fact the tragic culmination of a series of raids and looting sprees that had already previously been suffered by the Church in this diocese. Vehicles were stolen, as were the medical supplies stored there for the care of the many sick and injured in the diocese, the computers from the offices and many other items besides. As a result the priests and the other diocesan staff were left quite literally penniless and without any resources for continuing their work.
One of the cars that had been stolen had engine problems and broke down on the road. The rebels stole most of the spare parts from the vehicle, before abandoning what was left of it on the road. Now the bishop of Bambari has turned to ACN for help, in order to get this car working again. It is no easy matter to do so in the Central African Republic, since spare parts – like so many other things – are simply unobtainable within the country and have to be imported from abroad. We are helping with a contribution of 5,000 Euros.