A Comboni missionary in the country, recounting the violence taking place around his parish in the capital, expressed hope that Pope Francis’ planned visit would open people’s hearts to God’s love and “renew the face of this beautiful country drenched in blood.”
The country has been the scene of violence and turbulence since 2013. Religious leaders are worried about the ongoing political strife and ethnic incitement. The fighting they say, has divided the country on religious lines – with mostly Muslim rebel forces battling mainly Christian militias. Local Christians and Muslim leaders, as well as organizations such as the US Bishops’ Catholic Relief Services, are uniting people from all faiths together in an effort to sow peace.
Fr Alir said a group of Muslim youths, seeking a stolen motorcycle, came to the neighborhood and got into “a violent clash with some thugs” from the area. Three of the Muslim youths were killed, setting off a wave of reprisals.
“On their way to the parish, they started looting and burning all the houses and shops,” the Comboni said. “They gathered in front of the parish gate, wanting to destroy the church and slaughter all of us.”
“There was shooting and burning of houses which lasted for almost 10 hours,” the priest said.
The next day the gunshots had become infrequent so the situation was quiet, when Fr Alir and some of the soldiers went to visit the neighborhood around the parish, he said “What we saw was shocking. The destruction was beyond imagination.”
The looting and burning of houses continued that evening, on October 31 and November 1 as well, he said. Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Bangui on November 29-30.
In his Angelus address on Sunday Pope Francis expressed his solidarity with “the Comboni Fathers of our Lady of Fatima Parish in Bangui, which hosts numerous displaced people”.
Pope Francis expressed his hope that the contemplation of Jesus’ wounded Heart may always renew the missionaries’ passion for the men and women of our time. A passion that is expressed in solidarity, especially towards the weakest, and in promoting justice, peace and the respect for the dignity of each person.
Writing on Wednesday, Fr Alir said the neighborhood around the parish was still “in the hands of the assailants. It is very difficult to get out of the parish compound.”
“The situation does not seem to be getting better,” he said. “We do not know what could happen within the next moment.”