In war-torn Central African Republic, a representative of Christ reaches out to panicked population.
In a city of the Central African Republic, torn apart by civil war, Bishop Aguirre transformed the cathedral into a refugee camp.
Two thousand desperate Muslims flee their homes in panic, under assault from anti-Balaka militias. They are in Bangassou, a city in the south of the Central African Republic, on the border with the Congo, where the echoes of the civil war are even more violent than in other areas of the country.
The militias—which define themselves as Christian, and which took shape in the Central African Republic after Michel Djotodia’s rise to power in 2013—search every house. Their goal is to capture and kill them. Half of the population has already taken refuge in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.
But for these 2,000 people, there is no escape. They do not have the possibility of fleeing to the border. It is then that Bishop Juan José Aguirre Muños of Bangassou offers them the only way left to save themselves: He has them all take refuge in the city’s cathedral, protected by Moroccan soldiers of the MINUSCA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic).
They wait there for the situation to become less dangerous—a goal which is anything but simple. We need look no further than what happened just last month. “It all began on Friday, July 21, when the anti-Balaka abducted a pregnant young Muslim,” said Bishop Aguirre to Fides shortly afterward. “In response to this abduction, 15 young extremist Muslim men kidnapped two humanitarian workers of Caritas, with their families: nearly 30 people.”
For these extremists, there is no difference between anti-Balaka and Catholic workers.
That’s when MINUSCA intervened, liberating those people. “The extremist group,” the bishop adds, “replied by attacking the Cathedral—which has suffered grave physical damage—trying to burn it down. Fortunately, they weren’t successful.”
Attacks on places of worship are “shameful crimes,” says Pope Francis