BANGUI, Central African Republic — Inspired by Pope Francis’s trip to Central African Republic in 2015, a children’s hospital in the country will receive a substantial donation from the proceeds of a mercy-themed art project.
The project, entitled “Christo’s box, between Art and Mercy, A Gift for Bangui” was presented at the Vatican Museums in May 2016, during the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
When the project came to the Vatican, Pope Francis made it clear that he wanted the proceeds to go to Bangui Pediatric Hospital in Central African Republic.
Pope Francis made a surprise visit to the hospital during his trip to the conflict-torn country in November 2015, and was struck by the lack of equipment.
“I felt great pain,” the pope said during his November 30 in-flight press conference returning from Bangui to Rome. “Yesterday, for example, I went to a pediatric hospital, the only one in Bangui and maybe in the country, and in the intensive care unit they do not have instruments of oxygen. There were many malnourished children there, many of them, and the doctor told me that the majority of them will die soon because they have a very bad malaria and are seriously malnourished.”
On Monday, Vatican Radio reported that 200,000 euros ($215,000) were raised by the project and given to Pope Francis, who said the proceeds will be used at the hospital to care for all poor children “without distinction of religious belonging, because all children need care and attention.”
Christo, the artist, is a Bulgarian-born U.S. citizen and contemporary artist perhaps best known for his pieces that involve “packaging” or wrapping. Featured in the Vatican exhibit was a “packaged” fragment of Raphael’s ‘The School of Athens.’”
At the launch of the project, the then-Vatican Museums director, Antonio Paolucci, said that “Many years ago, Pope Julius II used Raphael to celebrate himself and his Church, (…) five centuries have gone by and another pope is using a Raphael for a work of mercy to help one of the poorest and most marginalized countries of sub-Saharan Africa.”
Bangui Pediatric Hospital was also a beneficiary of a December 2016 concert in Rome.
The Central African Republic has suffered civil war since December 2012, when several bands of mainly Muslim rebel groups formed an alliance, taking the name Seleka. They left their strongholds in the north of the country and made their way south, seizing power from then-president Francois Bozize. Their president was in turn ousted in a negotiated transition in January 2014.
In reaction to the Seleka’s attacks, some Central Africans formed self-defense groups called anti-balaka. Some of these groups, mainly composed of Christians, began attacking Muslims out of revenge, and the conflict took on a sectarian character.
The Seleka declared an independent Republic of Logone in northeastern Central African Republic in December 2015.
Central African Republic held presidential elections between December 2015 and February 2016, resulting in the March 2016 inauguration of President Faustin-Archange Touadera, but violence continued nevertheless.
At least 29 people were killed during clashes between Seleka and anti-balaka forces in October 2016.
Thousands of people have been killed in the civil war, with hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes.