YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – As a political solution to the Central African crisis continues to seem further out of reach, one Catholic charity is suggesting a unique solution: The Bible.
Aid to the Church in Need says it would like to help by giving $56,000 to print 30,000 copies of the New Testament in the local Sango dialect for the people of the Central African Republic.
“Reading the Bible offers hope in a seemingly hopeless situation,” Edward Clancy, Director of Outreach for Aid to the Church in Need told Crux.
“It offers a message of self-sacrificial love. It is on this intimate level that the Bible has impact. It provides a way towards conversion of hearts. A slow tireless campaign of affecting one person at a time, but the change happens. The Holy Bible opens the door to forgiveness and mercy while presenting that all people are created by God and have hope of conversion,” he said.
Clancy noted the prominent role the Catholic Church has played in the peacemaking process of the country, which has been ravaged by violence between the predominantly Muslim Seleka rebel group and the Christian-dominated Anti-Balaka militia.
He said the Church, “by living the extraordinary call of the Gospel, is front and center and is vulnerable to attacks from both sides… Just last month, 24 people were killed and nearly 200 were injured by a brutal attack on a church during Mass.”
Clancy also pointed out Church institutions have on numerous occasions, protected vulnerable Muslim populations, “even by allowing hundreds of people to have safety within the walls.”
Christians make up about 80 percent of the population of the Central African Republic, and Muslims about 15 percent.
The Muslim population is concentrated in the north of the country that touches on the Sahel region of Africa, although there are many Muslim traders in the south.
Last year, 2,100 Muslims were housed at the Catholic seminary in Bangassou so as to protect them from a reprisal attack waged by anti-balaka militias.
Clancy said the Church has remained the most consistent supplier of food and comfort to the suffering poor of all beliefs.
Still, the Central African Republic remains a fertile place for conflict, given the poverty, instability and desperation that continue to blight the country, and “anger and despair can easily ruin lives.”
The conflict – which erupted in 2013 – has led to over a million people fleeing their homes, either to other countries or as internally displaced people.
A semblance of peace came in 2014, thanks to the intervention of the French military and UN peacekeepers, allowing for the election of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra in early 2016.
But the peace has been short-lived. The last couple of months has seen a resurgence of violence, with Christians frequently bearing the brunt of the attacks.
“The political instability and rise of an Islamic extremist-funded Seleka has made the life of Christians difficult and dangerous. Since 2012, there have been numerous attacks on churches and many killed… It seems that each month there is another story of a bombing or mass killing attack,” Clancy told Crux.
He said the government and international political leaders will have to use their influence to move the country towards political stability, equity under the law, and protection of lives and property.
But for lasting peace to be attained, Aid to the Church in Need believes that Scripture will be essential.
Clancy said the Bibles will first be distributed to Christians, but that won’t be the final destination.
“As much as reading Sacred Scripture is a deeply personal communication, it also calls for action and sharing. The Bibles can and should be used by all. Holy Bibles are not tools of proselytization but rather learning and discussion. But, for a Muslim to learn, they cannot be restricted from possessing and reading the Holy Bible like in many Muslim-dominated countries,” he said.
The Archbishop of Bangui, Cardinal Dieudonné Nzapalainga said that translated versions of the Bible into the local Sango language will be essential to strengthen and renew the hearts and consciences of the people.
“The country only has hope for a future if hatred is overcome and a new leaf turned over through reconciliation and forgiveness. Believers must also gain a deeper understanding of the Good News of Christ,” the cardinal said.
Nzapalainga said the religious community needs to focus on an appeal to people’s consciences.
“We do not have any weapons. Our weapon is the Word of God. We are men of the Word of God. We go and knock on the gate to the hearts of these men and women,” he said.
“The people can either accept this or not. It is our job and duty to tell them: Thou shalt not kill. And this is what we do when we see people who are killing,” the cardinal continued. “We say to them: No, you don’t have the right to kill. God doesn’t want you to kill. And we have to say this to them and tell them to put down their weapons. We try to disarm their hearts and minds.”