As a spirit of revenge spreads, the bishops renew their call for peace

When a senior priest was shot dead in the Central African Republic, the act was bitterly condemned by the country’s bishops. But they were no less adamant in deploring calls for Christians to rise up and take revenge against Muslims.

“Such projects are contrary to the Gospel and our Church’s aspirations,” the bishops’ conference declared. “All Central Africans should be vigilant. Enemies of peace here wish to create conflict between Christians and Muslims, so as to conclude they can no longer live together.”

The killing of Mgr Firmin Gbagoua, vicar general of Bambari diocese, was only the latest attack on Catholic clergy and parishes in the Republic, which has been wracked by militia fighting between remnants of Seleka, a Muslim-dominated rebel force which briefly seized power in 2013, and a counter-movement, the Anti-Balaka.

Bishop Nestor Nongo-Aziagbia of Bossangoa praised Mgr Gbagoua as “a person searching for dialogue among communities” and blamed the murder on those opposed to his peacemaking efforts. And when a self-styled “League for Defence of the Church” reacted by accusing Church and government leaders of “immobility” against the violence, the bishops rejected its calls for counter-attacks on Muslims as “hate propaganda”.

The Church’s quest for peace and reconciliation in one of Africa’s poorest countries looks increasingly difficult. Violence over the past year has turned once-safe areas into war zones and left more than half the population of 4.5 million needing aid.

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