NAIROBI, Kenya — A Catholic bishop in Central African Republic who was recently caught up in a militia attack during a pastoral visit said the country’s citizens have endured more pain and sorrow than he experienced during the incident.
Bishop Zbigniew Tadeusz Kusy of Kaga Bandoro said the militants had threatened to kill him after entering the parish compound where he was staying during a pastoral visit to St. Mary Parish in Ndele, a market town near the Chadian border.
“I tell myself that our Christians and citizens have lived worse than what I experienced,” Kusy said in a May 7 pastoral letter in which he details the encounter with the militants during an early March visit.
“What happened to me is part of a larger set of unfortunate events that continue to punctuate the history of this country. It was not a political conquest, it was an attempt at ethnic cleansing between two tribes.”
The militants pointed a loaded AK-47 at him, threatened him with a knife, snatched his episcopal ring and hit him with a baton, the bishop said. To get back his official documents, he gave the militants his watch. A church land cruiser was towed away by militants as he watched. They later looted the parish center in his presence.
“Those who went to the presbytery broke the locks of the gates and doors, ransacked the rooms, tossing objects, books and documents on the floor. In the cafeteria, the dishes and the cupboard were broken. The movable generator was carried away,” said the bishop.
Central African Republic is recovering from a prolonged war that pitted the primarily pro-Christian anti-Balaka militants against a Muslim rebel coalition, Seleka. Although a 2014 peace agreement ended the conflict, remnants of the groups are still involved in a deadly cycle of violence.
In clashes, Catholic priests have been killed or injured as the militias burn or loot church centers. Now Catholic leaders fear the fighting will complicate the battle against the coronavirus pandemic. Cases of COVID-19 have been rising in the country. By May 15, Central African Republic cases stood at 143, adding to the struggle to treat malaria, measles and tuberculosis.
“The general situation in CAR as for now is that of lack of security, coupled with the coronavirus health crisis,” Bishop Nestor Desire Nongo-Aziagbia of Bossangoa, president of the bishops’ conference, told Catholic News Service May 14.
Church sources said the armed clashes that ignited in Ndele March 10 are still continuing. On April 29, at least 27 people were killed and 56 injured in the town.
Bishop Kusy said the communities involved in the violence are all Muslim who participated in the Seleka rebellion, during which the rebels took power in the country for eight months beginning in 2013.
The bishop said that after his departure from Ndele, there were other, more violent, clashes, including one in which Protestant churches were looted and burned.
“There are many deaths, even of children and pregnant women. The town market was also reportedly burned down,” said the bishop.