People of the Central African Republic are ‘the new Israelites’

An archbishop in Central African Republic has likened the people of his country to Israelites wandering in the desert, and urged them to use the pope's planned autumn visit to escape from their “prolonged crisis”.

In a Lenten pastoral letter, Bangui’s Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga, president of the national bishops’ conference, said that “the harsh ordeal” of the Israelites was necessary for them “to gain the firmness of a people” and so the Lord was using the country’s turmoil to “help us uncover the fragility, poverty and powerlessness which caused the crisis afflicting our country”.

Expressing the hope that the republic’s two-year civil war would mark “a passage from servitude to freedom”, he said: "Recent events here seem to have plunged us into a sort of spiritual lethargy, as if living in mediocrity with a dead faith. People kill, steal, rape, seize and take hostages without any mass reaction, as if these things were normal. The time has come, with God's grace, to wake up.

The country has been plagued by ethnic and sectarian violence since the rebel Seleka alliance ousted President Francois Bozize and suspended the constitution. The letter was issued just as the UN reported a new increase in refugees, with 50,000 fleeing their homes since January 1 in order to escape continued fighting between rival factions.