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Bishops in CAR Appeal for “sincere, fraternal, constructive dialogue” amid Election Crisis

Bishops in the Central African Republic (CAR) with President Faustin Archange Touadera.

Catholic Bishops in the Central African Republic (CAR) have, in a message addressed to the people of God in the country, appealed for a “sincere and frank, fraternal and constructive dialogue” in resolving the current crisis following the December 27 general elections.

“We call for a sincere and frank, fraternal and constructive dialogue to find just and lasting peace, rejecting hatred, violence and the spirit of revenge,” the members of Central African Episcopal Conference (CECA) say in their collective statement dated Sunday, January 17.

In the message issued at the end of CECA members’ first annual Plenary Assembly, the Bishops caution the people of God in CAR against “harming each other collectively!”

“Let us stop allowing a minority to benefit from our country's wealth according to their political affiliation or tribal affinities. Let us stop destroying ourselves! Our country has suffered too much from external plots with local complicities,” the Bishops in CAR say in their collective message shared with ACI Africa.

The December 27 Presidential elections in CAR were held amid insecurity and political tensions.

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On Monday, January 18, CAR’s Constitutional Court confirmed President Faustin Archange Touadera's re-election.

Ahead of the polls, a coalition of armed rebel groups under the auspices of Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) launched an offensive. The December 19 move threatened to disrupt the presidential elections with the intention to “march to Bangui.” 

The threats are said to be in response to a rejection by the country’s constitutional court of the candidacy of the rebels' ally, ex-president François Bozizé who wanted to challenge President Touadera.

However, the military in CAR, UN peacekeepers and reinforcements from Russia and Rwanda have so far barred the rebels who are said to control two-thirds of the landlocked country from advancing to the capital, Bangui.

In their January 17 seven-page statement, CECA members draw attention to the deteriorating situation of insecurity and fear caused by “coalition armed groups and their political allies, with the multifaceted support of their sponsors.” 

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“This has led to massive displacements of the population, paralyzed economic, health and agricultural activities, and impediments to free movement of persons and goods,” the Bishops say in their 22-point statement.

Bishops Juan-José Aguirre Muñoz of the Diocese of Bangassou, Mirosław Gucwa of CAR’s Bouar Diocese, and Guerrino Perin of Mbaiki Diocese were barred from accessing CAR’s capital, Bangui for the Plenary Assembly due to insecurity, a source told ACI Africa January 13.

In their statement signed by ten members of CECA, the Bishops note that the sharp division among the political class and the “lack of patriotism” has left the country at the mercy of “predators and mercenaries” who are well-furnished with arms.

“It is with dismay that we are witnessing a resurgence of looting and destruction of administrative buildings that have barely been rehabilitated, as well as the theft of private property,” the Bishops lament. 

They continue, “The misery of the Central African people is unspeakable when populations, in perpetual displacement, are forced to find refuge in inhuman conditions in the forests and when children still have to end their schooling after a poorly managed year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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Making reference to Luke’s Gospel, the members of CECA liken the situation in the country to that of the paralytic who, though still alive, was immobile and could not care for himself due to his malady. 

The evils of anger, manipulation, lies, destruction, violence, among others, are paralyzing CAR and preventing it from “promoting the great values of fraternity, justice and peace,” the Bishops say and urge the people of God in CAR to foster good relationships and put their faith in Jesus in the example of the paralytic who needed the help of others and the person of Jesus Christ to get on his feet again.

“Today, we need to meet Christ the Redeemer so that he may heal us. God's love is the true strength that can set us on our feet and move us forward,” the Bishops say in their January 17 message.

Jesus’ forgiving and healing words to the paralytic man bring about “liberation, resurrection, human reconstruction and a new life,” they say. 

“God does not tolerate people holding others captive; God helps those paralyzed by sickness and sin to regain their freedom of movement, to stand up, to take care of themselves and to serve God and humankind,” the members of CECA emphasize.

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Referencing Pope Benedict XVI’s Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Africae munus, the Bishops affirm that Africa “needs to meet Christ who heals, raises up and restores the true dignity of all who are bruised” and is in need of “multifaceted support to get up again.”

As a way forward, the Catholic Church leaders in CAR call on the citizens to be inspired by the country’s motto: “Unity – Dignity – Work” and the principle of “Zo-kwe-zo” (every human being is a person) of the founding father Barthélemy Boganda. 

“Let us not forget that coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, working together ensures success. Let us be united forever to save our nation,” they add.

The Bishops further encourage CAR citizens to “make use of the Central African genius through honest, organized and courageous work so that the nation’s riches will benefit without exception the daughters and sons of our country as well as the socio-economic development of the entire nation.”

They express the hope to see investigations of the country’s Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation Commission (CVJRR), yield the necessary results and lead to uncovering truths about the events and tragedies of the nation’s history.

“Reconstruction is a long-term task that requires determination, patience and participation of all the daughters and sons of our country,” the Bishops say and add, “Stand up! Let us change our mentality, our minds and our hearts to move forward.”

They add, “We are aware that the struggle for our freedom and the safeguarding of our sovereignty continues. Indeed, the Central African Republic has the sovereign right to freely choose its partners and to revise or even terminate agreements concluded with certain States when its sovereignty is threatened.”

“This is why we call for strong, constructive and beneficial diplomacy to occupy a respected place in the concert of nations and put an end to all the parallel and mafia-like networks of certain predators. It is up to the Central African Republic to make the right choice, not to enrich its leaders, but to develop,” the Bishops reiterate.

They further say and implore, “In truth, love remains the supreme law of the Christian. May this love be translated in us by the search for the good of others, solidarity, benevolence, forgiveness, self-sacrifice for the common good.” 

“May the Virgin Mary, Mother of Central Africa, direct our steps and accompany us towards her Son Jesus, Redeemer and Prince of Peace!” the members of CECA further implore.