By Eva-Maria Kolmann
Cardinal Dieudonné Nzapalainga, the newly-minted cardinal and archbishop of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, is on a tour of all the dioceses in the country that is only just emerging from several years of ethnic and sectarian clashes. A recent stop included the Diocese of Bouar in the north-west of the country, where he visited the parish of Bozoum, in the town of Bocarang, which just last month was the scene of violent clashes. Father Aurelio Gazzera, the parish priest of Bozoum, accompanied the Cardinal. Father Gazzera reported on the visit to international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
What was your experience of the visit by Cardinal Nzapalainga to your parish?
Father Aurelio Gazzera: The Cardinal‘s visit reminded me a little of the visit by the Pope to Bangui a year ago. The joy and the hopes of the people that it inspired were very great! The people gave the Cardinal an overwhelming welcome. It was profoundly moving to see how greatly the people genuinely wanted to listen to the Cardinal. And this listening, I truly believe and hope, was for many of them the beginning of a new journey, just as for many people the words of the Pope were a real inspiration, when he visited our country in November 2015.
You were present for two meetings with the rebels of the Antibalaka faction.
The rebels were armed, some of them with ordinary home-made guns they had fashioned out of water pipes, and others with Kalashnikovs. During the war, the Antibalaka were the opponents of the Seleka rebels. Since then they have become a mixed group of men who initially took up arms to protect their families and their villages, but to which a number of youths have now attached themselves; they seek to profit from the situation and live by robbery and extortion. To them the Cardinal addressed a calm but emphatic invitation to change their lives and not allow themselves to be fooled by material things and money—and, above all, not to allow themselves to be led astray by those who were urging them on to violence, only to later abandon them.
What was the most important message of the Cardinal?
I would say that his most important messages were these: first, “Have trust in God; do not fear! And then: “Take a more farsighted view and do not limit yourselves to looking for satisfaction in material things but have a long-term vision! That will make it possible to have a new country, a new life for everyone!”
Did the Cardinal also speak about the role of the Church?
There was a very intense and moving occasion in Bocaranga when we had gathered together, along with the Cardinal, with around 20 religious from various different mission stations. Among them there were very young novices, sisters who had just taken their permanent vows, as well elderly missionaries who have been working in the Central African Republic for 40 years and more.
All of them had remained at their posts, especially during these four years—despite the threats, the attacks and lootings, the attempts at intimidation. The Cardinal emphatically expressed the gratitude of the Church and of the people for this continuing perseverance.
And he told us about something that happened in a parish in Bangui at the height of the war. One man said to him, “I stayed put, because I could see the light burning in the convent. And I knew that if [the sisters] were staying, then I could stay as well.”