Latest news from Bangui, CAR
As sporadic violence continues to erupt in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, there are still doubts about whether the Pope’s visit this month will go ahead. This raises concerns as the Pope is expected to play a key role in the peace process. As a displaced person in Bangui said “peace depends on the Pope”. A local priest commented: “If he doesn’t come, there will be desperation.” If the Holy Father has to cancel this visit, it will be “humiliating for this country that awaits his visit with great hope”.
For this reason, ACN is calling for a Global Prayer Day for Peace in Central African Republic on November 22nd, Feast of Christ the King and Prince of Peace.
Report from Bangui by Fr. Federico Trinchero OCD
This morning the situation in Bangui has once again become worse.
Father Matteo and André had gone to the Bank and I had left for St Marc’s to accompany the students to school but we were surprised by a flood of people who were flocking to Carmel. Father Matteo turned back and reached Padre Pio’s. I tried to reach the Capuchins but even at their place there were people who were fleeing. I telephoned Father Edouard. No school for today. I have never seen so many people fleeing, especially children who were coming out of school and their parents who were arriving to get them. Here at Carmel we are OK. We will see if the people are coming back again or just staying here for the night…. but many of them are arriving with their goods and chattels in bundles on their head.
The situation in Bangui is much calmer than yesterday. We managed to get to the bank and to school. Every so often there is gunfire. The helicopters often fly over our area. From 5 in the morning many people returned to their houses, but only to collect their goods and then return to Carmel. Once again, this morning, houses were set afire. It seems to me that it was in the Makambo area. Columns of smoke can be seen rising up.
Today has been rather tense, like a small edition of 5th December 2013. In fact there was gunfire nearly the whole day in areas very close to us: Quina and Cattin. The most crucial time was between 1 and 3 in the afternoon. People were streaming to Carmel from their homes, especially from Guitangola. There were also those who were crying in fear. In the meantime we heard a lot of gunfire and the French helicopters were flying over almost on top of us. I must confess that I had a bit of healthy fear every so often. Then I telephoned a French general who immediately informed the central coordination of the Sangaris about our situation. In case of emergency we now have a special telephone number to request help. At the present moment we estimate we have around 5,000 refugees.
Today has been like yesterday, if not worse. After Mass, the gunfire started again, getting always closer to us. For hours the French helicopters flew over our area until the evening. We knew that yesterday the Muslims had overcome the parish of Fatima which is at least two hundred metres in the direction of Ketengere. It had never happened before. People arrived en masse. It is impossible to say how many they are, but there are quite a lot – from Plateau, Nguitangola, Fatima, Quina, Boing… There were also two Sisters of St Paul de Chartres from Foyer, who were attempting to get back home, but were forced to remain with us and tonight they will sleep here. The rest of their community in Fatima were evacuated from Minusca and are now with the Combonian Fathers. There were too many burnt houses around them, the risk was too high. A woman from the Avicom area gave birth and then escaped as fast as possible to us with her baby girl. Aristide immediately took care of her. Then another woman gave birth during time of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. She did not arrive in time to get to the main gate and had given birth on the ground in a tent. Aristide ran to help with Br Jeannot-Marie who, without even taking off his holy habit, gave assistance to the mid-wife. There has also been a little rain, but fortunately it only lasted a short time. We open the gate of the courtyard every evening at five and then the people go out every morning at five. Others find space in the tents, or sleep at the grotto of Our Lady.
If it does rain we are forced to open the church, which we have already prepared by moving all the pews to one side. By means of the Vicar, the Nuncio and the French I have informed the Bishop of our situation.
The night was particularly eventful. We had just got to sleep when all the people crowded into the garage began to cry out. We jumped out of bed thinking there was a Muslim attack. In reality it was a question of witchcraft or the cry of someone who had a nightmare or even the attempt of someone to rob the people of their money profiting from the panic….. It took almost an hour to calm the people. Then at 2.30 it began to rain and we put all the people, who were outside on the two verandahs, into the church. So many babies, so many women and also so many young children. At 6.30 in the morning we were, however, able to celebrate All Souls’ day Mass ‘tranquilly’. Sadly more people continue to arrive even at night. This has never happened before.
Unfortunately, both yesterday and today, after a day of truce, light gunfire started up again. It seems to have been a clash between the blue helmets and the anti-Balaka. More than that I do not know. The people are still with us and at night the mothers and children sleep in the courtyard and in the church. At the moment it is also raining. The Sisters of St Paul de Chartres managed to get home. However, Cedric is still here – since Thursday he has not been able to get near his house. On average, we have one birth a day and we do everything possible to take the mothers to hospital. Yesterday I had to rush a woman to the general hospital for a Caesarian operation to avoid the death of the fetus and the mother, who is very young. We had to pay almost 70,000 Francs. Such an injustice to these poor people! Today, during Evening Prayer, Matteo had to carry another. The child was taken to Emergency suffering from a strong attack of malaria, but unfortunately died. He was only 5 years old. Yesterday morning there was a meeting with the Bishop to assess the situation. Unfortunately we were unable to take part. A commission has been established to draw a document of protest about the inertia of the authorities and the military forces. Today, the Archbishop sent to us a journalist from French Catholic TV (KTO). He was with us for nearly the whole day and made a report on our place. Also France 24 produced an article on Carmel.