YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – With less than two months to the presidential election in Senegal, Catholic leaders have been spending the Christmas season preaching peace before, during and after the election.

Bishop Paul Abel Mamba Diatta of Ziguinchor said that there was need for the political contest to be “healthy,” and for the rules of the game to be respected to the letter.

He said the programs of the various competing candidates were different, but such differences should not be the incentive for violence.

“It is the citizens who have the responsibility to choose the person to steer the affairs of the nation,” the bishop said.

“This competition must be healthy. Each candidate must respect the opinions of their opponents. The state that is the guarantor of freedoms must give every candidate a chance and allow citizens the opportunity to freely choose the person they feel is most suited to run the affairs of the country for the good of all.”

The rector of Dakar Cathedral, Father Augustin Thiaw, had a similar message. While praying for a peaceful and transparent election, the priest called on all political actors and their supporters to avoid divisive and hateful language.

“It is our hope that as the politicians seeks to convince voters, their statements should be based on truth,” he said.

“Their words should inspire confidence and build peace. Our country doesn’t need lies,” the priest added.

To be president is to serve

Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Dakar, Benjamin Ndiaye, has called on the country’s politicians to give preference to peace and service to the Senegalese people.

Speaking on the sidelines of a film presentation on Islamic–Christian dialogue, the archbishop noted that “to be president is to accept to be at the service of others and nothing else.”

Ndiaye said it was not possible to be “at the service of some against others. You can only be at the service of all for the good and unity of all.”

The vast majority of Sengal’s population is Muslim, with over 90 percent of the country belonging to the Islamic faith. There are over 300,000 Catholics – around 5 percent of the population – but the Church has a large role to play in civil society.

Candidates in the election have been visiting religious leaders in the country in efforts to get their blessings. During one such meeting on December 15, the archbishop called for what he described as “a civilized political debate” that should see opponents listening to each other even as they develop different and perhaps conflicting points of view. He said such debates should be done “without resorting to invective, insult or the refusal to listen to others.”

“Very often, we do not dialogue. We juxtapose positions and that can’t move the country forward,” Ndiaye said.

In July, the archbishop made a similar appeal as he received some opposition candidates.

“The need for peace and social cohesion is every one’s responsibility,” he said. “It’s God that gives power, and power is a service.”

The bishops’ conference – which also represents Mauritania, Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau – discussed the elections during the Nov. 12-18 ordinary meeting.

“Ahead of the delicate election, the bishops pray fervently and strongly appeal for everyone’s conscience, especially the political actors, for a credible and peaceful election,” said Bishop José Câmnate Na Bissign of Bissau and president of the conference.

The bishops called on the candidates to forget their personal interests for those of the entire country.

Ndiaye said the election should be guided by “truth, peace and cohesion so that our country can be developed.”

In a Christmas address broadcast over the radio, the archbishop also urged the country’s citizens to take responsibility for their own actions during the election.

“It must … be normal for us all to behave as true, responsible and exemplary citizens in our words as in our actions,” he said.

“Let us give to ourselves the means to live a fair, transparent and democratic election, an election without problems, so we can guarantee social peace for the benefit of all,” Ndiaye said.

“Let our political actions be grounded in the truth, let us adopt the language of the truth without verbal violence with the respect of the other person and his convictions. The truth demands a moral conformity between what we say and what we do,” he said.