Peace Cells offer Hope in Central Africa
The IRIN news agency has published a special report by Katerina Vittozzi, on ethnic violence, displacement and peace efforts in Central African Republic.
There are 13 SMA missionaries working in Central Africa. A Central African SMA is serving as Bishop of Bossangoa in that country.
The IRIN report give a number of profiles including the story of Bertrand Dodoffo (41), a former Catholic seminarian in Bangui, who lived at his family home to save money. Their home was next to the compound of the church of Notre Dame de Fatima. He was close to completing his studies when, in 2009, violence erupted.
In 2013 fresh violence broke out and Bertrand was forced to take refuge in the church, his home for the past three years. His family home was torched and rendered uninhabitable. His rosary still hangs from the bare remnants of his bedroom wall.
According to IRIN the violence was driven by the Séléka – a coalition of mostly Muslim insurgent groups from the north of the country – and local vigilante groups known as the anti-Balaka. They were responsible for indiscriminate killings, rapes and looting.
At the height of the crisis the church compound where Bertrand stays had upwards of 6,000 people crammed into its grounds.
Initial relief to the people taking refuge at Notre Dame de Fatima has now stopped. According to the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, they are part of some 400,000 internally displaced people with a further 400,000 seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.
Along with others, Bertrand wishes to leave the church compound but with no home to go to they are compromised. Both the government and the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, face a mammoth task given the numbers of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) alone. They are looking to institutions such as the EU to assist with a range of humanitarian projects, including urban rehabilitation schemes.
The IRIN report also covers an initiative that echoes the model of Basic Christian Communities, called Peace Cells. The peace cell is made up of community leaders from all faiths, backgrounds, and sexes, aimed at developing respectful dialogue and setting the foundations of peace within and between communities, especially between Christian and Muslims.
Godefroy Kassai, an advocate of Peace Cells, told IRIN: “We’ve worked a lot with children in the neighbourhood, trying to sensitise them. One day we heard a little boy say he wanted to kill any Muslims that came back. So we realised we had to start with the kids.”
The full report can be read here