Haiti is approaching a civil war, according to Archbishop Max Leroy Mésidor of Port-au-Prince, President of the Haitian Bishops’ Conference.

“The armed gangs act like an organized army … The police cannot keep up with them,” he told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

The archbishop told the Catholic charity that the Church’s charity work is “very badly affected.”

The terrifying violence as anti-government gangs battle police in the streets has crippled the fragile economy and made it extremely difficult for many of the country’s most vulnerable to feed themselves.

The main port Port-au-Prince closed down, stranding scores of containers full of food and medical supplies at a time when U.N. officials say half the country’s more than 11 million inhabitants don’t have enough to eat, and 1.4 million are starving.

Grocery stores in upscale parts of the capital remain stocked, but their goods are out of reach to most in a country where most people earn less than $2 a day.

“There are kidnappings everywhere…Everyone is afraid, including the religious. As soon as you leave Port-au-Prince, you are in danger. The gangs even come into the churches to kidnap the people there,” Mésidor said.

The archbishop told ACN he struggles to carry out his clerical duties “because one must cope with daily life – and this daily life consists of suffering, violence, gunfights, poverty and deprivation.”

“I cannot visit two-thirds of my diocese because the roads are blocked. To reach the south of the diocese, I must take a plane. I have not been to the cathedral for two years,” he said.

“The last celebration I was able to do in the cathedral was the Chrism Mass. It was full … But from the Agnus Dei until the end of the service shots were ringing out. We could see the smoke rising nearby,” he added.

Scores of people have been killed and more than 15,000 have been forced from their homes since coordinated gang attacks began on Feb. 29 while Prime Minister Ariel Henry was in Kenya to push for the U.N.-backed deployment of a police force from the East African country to fight gangs in Haiti. A Kenyan court, however, ruled in January that such a deployment would be unconstitutional.

As the gangs rampaged through Port-au-Prince, freeing more than 4,000 inmates from the country’s two biggest prisons, attacking its main airport and setting police stations on fire, Haiti’s least powerful have suffered the most.

Schools, banks and most government agencies remain closed. Gas stations have also shuttered, and the few who can afford to pay $9 a gallon — more than twice the usual rate — have flocked to the black market.

Mésidor told ACN that seminarians and catechists “persevere” and “brave the danger” because they “wish to fulfil a mission”.

The archbishop told ACN about the importance of bishops working together, saying, “we must bear our cross and follow Christ – especially during this time of Lent.”

“We persevere and we count on the prayers and solidarity of the people,” he said.

“The most important thing is that the Church continues to bring people together despite all the difficulties. Through sermons or spiritual exercises for young people, we try to rekindle their hope, to get them to organize themselves and not sink into resignation,” he added.

The archbishop also expressed his gratitude for ACN’s help, which includes formation, retreats and other programs for seminarians, religious and lay people, as well as Mass stipends for priests and emergency aid for religious sisters.

Mésidor said without this support, “it would be very difficult for the Church to function” because “priests receive almost no salary and many of the faithful are impoverished”, and “the wealthy have gone abroad.”

Meanwhile, Haitian officials extended a state of emergency and nightly curfew on Thursday as gangs continued to attack key state institutions.

This article used information from The Associated Press.