Religious leaders honoured for work in Central African Republic

The president of the Central African bishops’ conference is one of three religious leaders who has been honoured for promoting interfaith reconciliation in the Central African Republic.

Shortly before receiving the 2015 Sergio Vieira De Mello Prize in Geneva, Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga of Bangui said that the award belonged neither to him nor his fellow recipients Imam Omar Kobine Layama, president of the republic’s Islamic Council, and the Rev. Nicolas Guerekoyamene-Gbangou of the Evangelical Alliance.

“It honours the dedication of ordinary people from all walks of life who have refused to be overwhelmed by the violence and instead, with brave hearts, go and talk peace and reconciliation in their communities”, Dr Nzapalainga said.

The award, which commemorates a Brazilian UN diplomat killed in a bomb attack in Iraq 12 years ago, is intended “to draw world attention to unnoticed efforts by an individual, group or organisation having done something special and unique.”

The three religious leaders have been working through their Interfaith Peace Platform, founded in 2013, “to reconcile religious groups in the hope of a lasting peace”. That year a rebel group called Seleka, including many Muslims from Sudan and Chad, overthrew the government of Central African Republic, sparking retaliations from the Anti-Balaka, typically described as Christian militias. Thousands have died at the hands of both groups. 

Since then, “the heads of Catholic, Muslim and Protestant communities have been working together tirelessly to restore the social fabric of their country by addressing the root causes of mistrust in remote villages”, a De Mello Foundation press release said, praising how “they continue to persuade Muslims, Catholics and Protestants to avoid further violence and revenge”.