December 11, 2017

Catholic bishop acts to shield Muslims from killings in the Central African Republic

Bishop Juan Jose Aguirre with women and children of his diocese. PHOTO: CNS

Spanish missionary Bishop Juan José Aguirreof Bangassou in the Central African Republic, has denounced the outbreak of revenge violence against Muslims in his city by the Anti-balaka, a group of mainly animist and anti-Muslim guerrillas.

He spoke about the problem in a recent interview with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

“They attacked Bangassou and the Moroccan soldiers of the UN forces called on all the Muslims to leave their quarters and go to the mosque,” Bishop Aguirre told ACN.

“As a result, the mosque was packed full. They started to attack them and shoot at them; they were three days without eating or washing. I myself went there to stand in front of the mosque and persuade them to stop shooting. But they killed the Imam. We organised lorries so that we could carry them to the buildings of the Catholic Church.”

The bishop confirmed that the Catholic Church is at present sheltering some 2,000 Muslim refugees in its centres in Bangassou, in the southeast of the country.

“We are sheltering them in my own house, and we have reorganised the minor seminary, the cathedral and some other churches. The UN forces are taking steps to organise food deliveries and to set up tents for the refugees.”

Also present at the time in Bangassou, together with Bishop José Aguirre, is Cardinal Nzapalainga of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic.

“Together with him we are engaged in dialogue with the local chieftains to stop the people looting in the Muslim suburbs, which have been systematically attacked,” Bishop Aguirre added.

“And we are also negotiating with the Anti-balaka to persuade them to leave Bangassou. This is what we were negotiating about this afternoon.

“In the 35 years I have lived here I have never seen this inter-communitarian violence before. Ever since Chad sent in fighters of the Islamist Seleka alliance into Central Africa, we have been witnessing violence,” the bishop explained.

“Now we have 2,000 people here who have no idea what has happened to their property, their homes; everything has been stolen from them. We have buried over 50 bodies, together with the Red Cross. We helped them with the vehicles of the Catholic mission.

“Now we have to set up refugee camps for these homeless people, and on top of this the rainy season is just starting and we have to provide shelter for the people. But we hope and believe that one day they will be able to return to their homes and that there will be peace here once more,” Bishop Aguirre concluded.

Another Bishop, Mgsr Cyr-Nestor of the diocese of Alindao, which is also in the south of the Central African Republic, has likewise addressed a message to ACN, denouncing the new clashes between factions of the Seleka and the Anti-balaka, who are still present in the region.

The violence erupted on May 8 in response to the abduction and murder of several young people in Datoko by the Seleka.

Following the intervention of UN troops, the situation appears to have calmed down for the moment. Nevertheless there are still around 5,000 refugees, who are currently being cared for in various centres of the Catholic Church, including the bishop’s house, the catechetical centre, a school and a convent.

The diocese is beginning to have difficulties providing food and water for everyone and the priests are seeking help from the local population, given the lack of NGOs in the region.

ACN has offered help to the diocese of Alindao, where for the moment the local diocesan Caritas is addressing the most urgent needs.

Donations to Caritas can be made at caritas.org.au

Donations to Aid to the Church in Need can be made at aidtochurch.org

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