Bishop Cyr-Nestor Yapaupa negotiating with rebel forces © Aid to the Church in Need

Sadly, the Central African Republic has never truly known peace. In the 57 years since it gained independence, this country - one of the poorest in the world - has suffered one military coup after another. It is hard to keep track of all the different armed groups in the country today. Their names may differ but the crimes they commit are the same everywhere - looting, burning, rape, abduction, murder.

Since 2013 the country has effectively been in a state of civil war. Although the situation in the capital Bangui is largely stable, the remainder of the country is still in the hands of various rebel groups, who have since split still further. The government - which even in “normal” times was unable to provide the people across vast swathes of the country with even a minimum of schooling, health care, security, law and order - is now almost totally absent. The civil authorities and the police were often the first to save their own skins in the face of the advancing rebel forces. Only the Church remains.

Many Catholic priests and religious have risked their lives trying to protect the defenceless civilian population. Many of them were themselves threatened with guns, a number were abducted and some of them murdered. But to this day they continue to open the doors of their churches and mission stations to give shelter, regardless of religion or ethnicity, to civilians whose villages and towns have been attacked and who have lost everything but the clothes on their backs. The Catholic Church has always been and continues to be a constant voice for peace and reconciliation.

In May and June 2017 the diocese of Alindao in the south of the country was the scene of heavy fighting between warring armed groups. In the town of Alindao itself around 150 people were killed during this time. Most of the people in the affected areas have fled their homes. These people, who even before the conflict were already desperately poor and living from hand to mouth, have now lost everything. For the time being they cannot return to their homes, since the threat from the rebels is still too serious and the killings and acts of violence still continue.

The people can only put their trust in God, and they look to the Church for everything, since they can expect practically no help from any other source. “The Church has to provide for everything, since the State has failed”, says Bishop Cyr-Nestor Yapaupa sadly. People know that they can count only on God and on the Church. One man commented, “We are hoping the fighting will end soon, so that we can finally return home. Everywhere else people are being helped, but here no one seems interested in our difficult situation. God is our only protection; that is why we go to Mass every day to ask God to hear us and help us in our situation. Fortunately, the Catholic Church is also there for us. The bishop is on the front line of the efforts to resolve this crisis.”

For now though, the bishop needs help to care for these refugees, among whom there are many children. He is counting on the generosity of the benefactors of the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) to fill his empty hands, so that he can provide the barest necessities for the 3,000 refugees under his care. ACN is not going to disappoint him and has already given emergency aid of $46,000.

The vital work of Catholic charities like Aid to the Church In Need provide a lifeline to the Church wherever she is poor, persecuted or threatened. Please help our work by donating online or send your donation to Aid to the Church in Need, PO Box 7246 Baulkham Hills NSW 2153. Ph: (02) 9679-1929


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