Central African Republic     18.11.2015

“It would be a tragedy if the Pope could not come “

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is appealing to its benefactors to pray this Sunday for the papal visit, despite the most recent violence in the country.

On 29 and 30 November Pope Francis is due to visit the Central African Republic, but the fresh outbreaks of violence in the capital Bangui since 29 October might put his visit in jeopardy. For the people of Central Africa, this would be yet another tragedy. Conscious of the great importance of this visit, ACN is calling for a Global Day of Prayer on Sunday 22 November (Feast of Christ the King, Prince of Peace) for the re-establishment of peace , so that the papal visit can go ahead as planned.

The members of an ACN delegation who have just returned from Bangui actually witnessed the violence, which is continuing on the outskirts of the capital. “We witnessed a real exodus of people on the day when the violence erupted again in one of the suburbs (Cattin). People were fleeing with whatever they could carry, while others were looting what was left in their abandoned homes.”On all Saints’ Day the parish priest in the parish of Saint Joseph of Mukassa found his church emptied of three quarters of its congregation.

In the midst of all this violence, the expectations of the papal visit are becoming more and more intense. Apart from the fact that his visit will be a profound encouragement towards peace, “the eyes of the world will finally be turned on the Central African Republic”, as the people explain.

Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga of Bangui also explains: “We are looking forward to this visit for a message of peace, reconciliation and above all mercy. The visit of the Pope is a sign of God coming to meet us, through his messenger. He is the Pope of the poor, coming to visit the poor. Central Africa is a poor country, a forgotten country, a helpless and abandoned country.”

For Mgr Franco Coppola, the apostolic Nuncio in Bangui, “the Holy Father wishes to remind the whole world by this visit of the difficulties into which the Central African Republic has been plunged and is trying with all its strength to emerge from.”

Sister Prisca, a religious in the parish of Our Lady of Africa in Bangui, also explains: “Our country has suffered greatly in these last three years. The visit by Pope Francis will be for us a witness of peace – this is what the people of Central Africa are hoping for. I am also expecting him to invite us, the consecrated religious, to go out even more and carry the Good News to those who are massacring their brothers and sisters and I am hoping that he will help us to go out and speak of peace and reconciliation.”

Christian, president of the Parish Pastoral committee of Saint Sauveur states: “What we are hoping from the Pope’s visit is that he will bring a spirit of social cohesion between Christians and Muslims. We young people of Central Africa want to be able to move towards the development of the Central African Republic.”

For Christine du Coudray, who heads the ACN project section responsible for this part of Africa, the visit of the Pope is of crucial importance. “It would be a tragedy if the visit of Pope Francis had to be cancelled. It would be a humiliation for the country and for its people. The Central African Republic is a forgotten country. The people have been victims of violence for years. It is of crucial importance that the Pope should come and put a stop to this cycle of violence. For the Christians, and even for the Muslims, the Pope represents the hope of a better future.”

The Catholic Church in the country is playing a vital role, not only for the Christian population (66%) but also for the Muslims. “Without the Church the situation would be far more unstable. Archbishop Nzapalainga is a charismatic and widely respected figure of authority. We have seen for ourselves how he has succeeded in calming the situation in the areas of conflict”, Christine du Coudray continues. The priests and religious are also greatly admired, both by Christians and Muslims, because in spite of the danger, they faithfully remain next to the people.

Since 2013 the International Catholic charity ACN has allocated more than 2 million Euro to help the Central African Republic, especially to helptheone million displaced people (almost one fourth of its population).

Amélie de La Hougue