Church in CAR Encouraging Catholic Couples to Evangelize in Country’s Troubled Areas

Cardinal Dieudonné Nzapalainga with IDPs. Credit: ACN

The Catholic Church in the Central African Republic (CAR) is risking to access volatile areas troubled by violence, the country’s Cardinal has said.

In an interview with the Catholic Pontifical and charity foundation, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International, Dieudonné Cardinal Nzapalainga says that the Church in the African country is preparing Priests, and encouraging the Catholic couples, to evangelize in places “plagued by armed groups”.

The Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Bangui specifically identifies the Diocese of Bossangoa, which he describes as a periphery and “a danger zone”.

“The Catholic Church in the Central African Republic is now trying to reach out to the peripheries, such as the Diocese of Bossangoa, in the Northeast, which has been plagued by armed groups. We have a school there and we are preparing young priests, both in human and spiritual terms, to go to this danger zone,” Cardinal Nzapalainga says in the Thursday, April 13 ACN report.

He adds, “We also invite lay Catholic couples to go to these places where nobody else wants to go.”


Asked if inviting Priests and the Laity to go to embattled regions is not too much of a risk, the Cardinal says, “The people who live in these difficult areas need the sacraments and the fraternal witness of the universal Church. This is very important.”

The member of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans – CSSp.) says that sometimes, it is only the Catholic Church that is brave enough to access these hard-to-reach areas that government officials shun.

Some places, he told ACN, are inaccessible due to poor roads.

“When I was made a Cardinal, I was told, and rightly so, that I was meant to represent the whole country, and not just Bangui. This is why I go to places where high-ranking government representatives cannot go. Of course, this implies risks, even if only due to the state of our roads, some of which have not been repaired since independence,” he said.

The Catholic Church leader who first served as Apostolic Administrator of Bangui Archdiocese from May 2009 before he was Consecrated and installed for the same Metropolitan See in July 2012 continued, recalling the March 18 events, “Recently my car flipped over on one of them… But our life is a small thing when compared to the expectations of the people who are calling out for spiritual support.”

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The Cardinal says that despite combined efforts by President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, Rwanda and Russia to fight violence in CAR, rebels continue to wreak havoc among communities in the country.

“The rebels continue to be present in the smaller settlements, so the people cannot travel freely, because of insecurity. They fear the roadblocks and explosive devices,” the Archbishop of Bangui says, recalling a mine explosion in which Fr. Norberto Pozzi, a 71-year-old Italian member of the Discalced Carmelite Fathers, who sustained injuries in and had his leg amputated.

“Father Norberto Pozzi, was recently struck by a mine that was set off by his car, and he was badly wounded, even though he obviously had nothing to do with the current political conflict. They had to amputate his foot,” Cardinal Nzapalainga recalls.

With the vastness of CAR, efforts to stem violence in the African nation have borne negligible fruit, the Catholic Archbishop told ACN.

“Our country is bigger than France and it is difficult for a weak administration to control. There is not really a frontline. The militias hostile to the government are spread out through the country, and difficult to pin down,” he says, adding that the fact that the political motives of the rebels are unclear, little can be done to control them.


The CAR Cardinal also notes that there are people who joined militias and cannot put down their weapons now because they have no other means of earning a living.

He says that rebels who belong to more structured groups take possession of the lands they plunder. These, he adds, are more active in places where there are more riches, such as valuable wood and minerals.

In the interview with ACN, Cardinal Nzapalainga who has advocated for interreligious dialogue lauds the existing collaboration between leaders of all faiths to ensure that the conflict in CAR does not take a religious turn. This is especially because in the past, the Séléka militia, which was mostly Muslim, was known to attack Christians.

“We joined with other religious leaders in the country, with pastors and imams, and proclaimed loud and clear that this is not a religious conflict. We have always stood united against the risk of this turning into a confessional war, and this position has borne fruit. As religious leaders we are like parents in a family, we must lead by example,” he says.

The Cardinal adds, “Our citizens can see that we continued to be on good terms with each other and that we always continued to say that the divisions in our country were being imposed from outside.”

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“Our efforts at peacebuilding were made easier by the fact that in Central African society many families are mixed, and everybody has a cousin, an uncle, or somebody close who belongs to another religion but is still part of the same family tree,” he says.

In Bangui, the Spiritan Cardinal recalls witnessing “moments of brotherhood” where young Muslims helped to rebuild churches and young Christians helped to rebuild mosques.

He says that such moments of the brotherhood have had the positive effect of promoting unity among people of various faiths in CAR.

Cardinal Nzapalainga agrees that even though CAR is experiencing a terrible crisis, the Church shows an extraordinary vitality, manifested in the number of vocations to the Priesthood.

The period of crisis benefits Church growth, he says, and adds, “For our poorer compatriots, who live in pain, insecurity and poverty, God truly is the rock on which they can lean. During the unrest, when so many people were displaced, many found refuge in our churches, and some children were even born there.”

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.