The bishops of the Central African Republic (CAR) have set aside the day before Advent as a day of mourning and prayer for victims of ongoing violence in the country.
December 1, is significant, as it marks the anniversary of CAR’s establishment as a republic after French colonial rule.
In a statement, the bishops urged “men and women of good will to refrain from celebrating December 1, as a sign of mourning”. On the following day, the first Sunday of Advent, prayers were held in memory of the victims of violence in the country. The bishops said all donations collected would be given to support victims and their families.
The Central African Republic has suffered violence since December 2012, when several bands of mainly Muslim rebel groups formed an alliance, taking the name Seleka, and seized power.
In reaction to the Seleka’s attacks, some Central Africans formed self-defence groups called anti-balaka. Some of these groups, mainly composed of Christians, began attacking Muslims out of revenge, and the conflict took on a sectarian character.
According to Reuters, the violence has displaced more than 1 million people and brought the country’s food security to a level four in the international food security classification system, one step away from ‘famine’.
The UN humanitarian chief for CAR, Najat Rochdi, said nearly 3 million of the country’s 4.6 million population are in need of aid. More than half of them are in desperate need.
“If the situation is remaining the same and people are not going back to work their fields…it means that, yes, in very few years we will have a famine in Central African Republic,” Rochidi said.
Recent acts of violence include the torching of several Christian internal displacement camps. At least 42 people – many of whom were refugees – died in a November 15 attack on the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Alindao.
Cardinal Dieudonné Nzapalainga, the archbishop of Bangui and president of the CAR bishops’ conference, spoke at a press conference with the bishops last week and pointed to the Constitution of the Central African Republic which states: “The human person is sacred and inviolable. All public officials, all organisations, have an absolute obligation to respect and protect it.”