Edited by board administrator 16/5/2013, 4:42 pm
Catholic priest tells of the suffering Church in the Central African Republic racked by terror and violence
Below is a personal account of the current situation unfolding in the Central African Republic written by Father Anastasio Roggero OCD, Missions Procurator of the Carmelites in Italy
(Fr Anastasio Roggero © Aid to the Church in Need)
Carmel’s mission has been visited by the new masters. The purpose of the visit: to rob the car. But the missionaries had prudently “disabled” it, making it impossible to take away. To hinder other visits, all the accessible entrances have been blocked and we live in not a little fear. However, in the city, gunfire has decreased and with prudence you can get around, but the priests, for urgencies, use a taxi, since all the cars for the use of the mission are now in safekeeping at the Archbishop’s offices. The situation in the various missions in the country is much more uncertain. At Bozoum, they were alarmed by the arrival of a colored vehicle transporting three soldiers. One of them had a toothache and had come to be treated. He lamented the fact he had not been able to close his eyes for the whole night. The Superior, Fr Aurelio, replied that after the soldiers’ arrival in the city nobody had been able to sleep any more. The mission had its car robbed. The same happened at the missions of Baoro and Bouar-Saint’Elia. Sister Lisieux was robbed of her watch and cell phone, and shortly after was again in danger because the “new masters” wanted to take the car in which she was a passenger. The poor sister is still in a state of shock. At the Bour-Yolè mission, on the night of April 26, an armed soldier climbed over the boundary wall and made the Superior, Fr Enrico, Fr Marco and Fr Maurice get down on their knees. Fr Maurice was also beaten and robbed of his computer.
Notwithstanding all this, on Saturday April 27, I decided to visit all my confreres on the various missions. To accompany me would be my friend Youssouf with his car. He is Muslim and speaks the language of the occupiers. With him the journey would be safer. Fr Aurelio telephoned me to say, “Don’t risk the journey, at Yaloké the road is controlled by Sudanese”. Reluctantly, I abandoned my plans. I really wanted to encourage my confreres and the Indian Sisters, in particular, who have been offering a precious service to the mission for more than twenty years.
I keep in contact with my many friends in the nearby city. They speak to me about their sufferings. Kim-Victor and his family were robbed of all their possessions: beds, clothing, and cooking vessels. The same thing has happened to many families. Gaytan’s wife is seriously ill in the hospital. They lack the money to buy the necessary medicines. Sandrine, without my help, would no longer be alive. I was able to help her thanks to a very kind and generous friend. Also, Serge’s son is grievously ill, and I was called upon to give help. I paid a visit to Rev. Francis Siki, the Pastor of the Bangui Cathedral parish. I consoled him by bringing a gift of many rosaries for his parishioners, a bottle of wine and many chocolates for the altar servers. As a seminarian, he had three years of training in our Bouar-Saint’Elie mission. The Seleka soldiers wanted the keys of his car: when he courageously refused, they beat him, but he did not reply in like manner. The same day, being a Sunday, during the evening Mass, he sent a message to the new authorities of the Central African Republic, asking them to ensure the safety of people and their goods.
I took part in the community life of the Bangui mission. At morning Mass, prayer for peace is continuous and fervent. Fr Stefano never tires of inviting people to pray for peace in our Country. A prayer crusade has been planned for the month of May. Every family has been invited to recite the rosary at Carmel before the grotto of Our Lady, in the open among the trees. At 6 in the evening, it is already getting dark. Our prayer melds with the song of the crickets. The sky is clear and it seems possible to count the numberless stars. After supper follows recreation, enlivened by the ringing laughter of the young religious. After Compline (Night Prayer), everyone retires to their own room.
On returning, I travel with Fr Valentino Vallarino from Arenzano. He is 78 years old, 52 of these years spent in Africa. In the previous coup d’etat in 2002, he was tied to a tree and heavily beaten, because the rebels wanted more money than he had. I heard from his own mouth the story in detail. He is now at Gofo, a village in the north of the Country, near to the Chad border. The mission has been completely destroyed. The missionaries took refuge under their beds from the soldiers who were firing at body height. Fr Valentino and his confreres were escorted by the few forces of law and order right to Bangui, 800 km distance. Fr Valentino finished the tale of these adventures by saying to me, “We will rise again.” After two months of rest, he wants to return to the mission in July. On May 4, Fr Aurelio sent me the following message: “Hi there, Fr Anastasio, thanks for the phone call. Yesterday I was at Bouar... also at Yolè... despite the fatigue and sadness of these times The brothers, sisters and people are all seeking to get on ahead!”
(A Catholic priest looking over a cache of arms confiscated from a rebel militia group in Bocaranga during fighting in 2011 © Father Aurelio Gazzera OCD)
The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need had already arranged to supply emergency aid to the diocese of Kanga Bandoro in January via secure routes and channels. In view of the extreme emergency this aid is now being topped up. A further four dioceses are receiving immediate emergency relief totalling $200,000. Church sources say it is impossible to consider rebuilding the churches and houses or even of purchasing new vehicles to replace those stolen by the rebels. “It's simply a matter of survival now” they reported.
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
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