By Fr.Aurelio Gazzera in Bozoum, Central African Republic
These days we received a great gift: The visit of the Archbishop of Bangui, Dieudonné Nzapalainga. He is one of the few people in the country who raise their voices against injustice and violence. He is the president of the Episcopal Conference and of Caritas. He brought us the solidarity of the Church and gave us great encouragement. He came here to examine the situation of the 2,400 displaced people who abandoned their villages along the Bozoum-Bossangoa road to get to Bouzom.
On Saturday we started with a meeting with the delegates of the eight villages, who presented their situation and their needs. Their most urgent need is peace and security. But then also healthcare, food, shelter… At 10 AM we met with one of the few officials who remained in the city. However, he does not have any power, as everything has been taken over by the rebels, who are doing whatever they want, and who are even controlling the judicial system.
At 11 AM we met the Chadian Consul, as many rebels are coming from his country. Afterwards we met the colonel of the rebels. We talked and talked – and even this is already something. I explained to them why we have come, and asked them to leave these villages in peace and to release the captives.
In the afternoon we visited some families. Almost all the displaced persons had been taken in by relatives or friends. In one family there have arrived 38 persons.
At 3 PM we met these internal refugees. More than 500 attended the meeting.
Sunday, 19th of August
We started the day with the celebration of the Holy Mass, presided by the Archbishop. I had feared that because of the change in the schedule not so many people would attend Mass, but the church was overcrowded. The Archbishop accompanied us by his prayers and helped us to believe and to hope.
At 9 AM, right after Holy Mass, we hit the road. I went first with my car, as the Archbishop was escorted by Gabonese soldiers of the FOMAC. I feared the people might flee at the sight of the soldiers.
I stopped in Voudou. The rebels were gathering there and invited me. I could not refuse their invitation. They were just collecting their arms (the old guns made out of water pipes). I tried to calm down the people, because the rebels who had caused so much trouble came from Bossangoa, not from Bozoum. After some 10 minutes the Archbishop also arrived, met the people and encouraged them.
We went to Bossa, where the rebels had killed one person (who, by the way, was handicapped). The inhabitants of the village were hiding and did not come out until they understood it was only us. While we were talking, the rebels arrived. The people fled in panic. I told them to stay calm and slowly, slowly they decided to stay.
In Bodalo, an abandoned village, there was not a living soul. Only when we were returning did we meet 4 (four!) persons.
In Kemo there are still people around, but they are terrified. Some of them had been tied up and beaten. We crossed the river to meet the rebels – the very worst ones. The colonel was lounging around on a chair. He spoke only Arabic. The vice-colonel translated the conversation. We said we had come to visit the villages where the violence and the massacres had taken place. The colonel replied, that this was not true and nothing happened. I made him repeat this twice.
When we left their „base“, on the other side of the street the inhabitants of the village were waiting. We approached them and encouraged them.
Then we left the Archbishop who was still to go to Bossangoa. We returned to Bozoum – somewhat encouraged and hopeful, but also with deep sadness. What we had seen, is just a tiny part of the pain and the suffering the country has been going through for five month. And while we are here, the self-proclaimed president is sworn into office in Bangui.
There are so many doubts and so many questions!