As reported in last week’s post, the Comboni Missionaries are currently assisting reconstruction efforts in the Central African Republic, which has been in a transition phase since the outbreak of civil strife in December 2012.
During the conflict that shook the country, virtually all missions were looted by rebels, prompting Comboni Bishop Juan José Aguirre of Bangassou to speak of the terrible experiences encountered in his diocese. He said in 2013: “When I arrived in my diocese I found only chaos. The people were fleeing as best they could. Whole families fled to the Congo. People were executed after summary trials; there were rapes, robbery and the systematic looting of the mission stations.”
Since then, the missionaries have already begun to move the country towards reconciliation. In Dekoa, for example, a large forum of young people was held. The forum united Christians, Muslims, and young members of rebel group Seleka, urging them to forgive one another and reconcile. In the end, the young people prayed and ate together peacefully.
Élia Gomes is a Lay Comboni Missionary who has been working in Mongoumba, Central African Republic, for three years. She described the current situation in these words:
“There are many weapons around. It is rare to spend a day without hearing any shooting – especially in the capital, despite the presence of the Multinational Army of Central Africa (FOMAC), who are patrolling the city alongside the French.”
She added: “Despite the effort of some NGOs which, running the risk of losing their vehicles, try to go and help the places that have been hit the hardest, there are still many health centres without medicines, and many people do not have access to basic commodities. For this reason, poverty levels among the people are rising, and the degree of malnutrition is increasing, especially among the children. Looting continues throughout the country”.
Describing a particularly difficult episode, Gomes said: “One night the Seleka rebels arrived. They stayed in Mongoumba a whole day, and then they took off with the service vehicles of the military. They emptied the fuel storage of the customs station and took along the entire security contingent of Mongoumba. We were left without protection.”
“At present Mongoumba can rely on a small military detachment, but people try to avoid it. A few days ago, someone was saying – and I agree –‘God is protecting Mongoumba’”.