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Réligion of Saturday, 29 March 2014

Source: leffortcamerounais.com

“What I saw in Bangui struck me. There are tens of thousands of displaced people and no institution is functioning, except the Catholic Church,” NECC President and Douala Archbishop, Mgr. Samuel Kléda

Mgr. Samuel Kleda The Archbishop of Douala and President of the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon, NECC, Mgr. Samuel Kleda, recently paid a visit to comfort Christians of the Central African Republic. He now explains the reasons of this visit in greater detail and, on the sidelines, comments on the recent celebration of 50 years of Reunification in Cameroon. Excerpts:

Your Excellency, you have just visited two countries in Central Africa, precisely the Central African Republic and Congo Brazzaville. May we know what took you to these countries? I effectively visited two countries of the Central African Sub Region as you have just mentioned. The reasons for visiting these two countries were not the same.

We know the insecurity that reigns in the Central African Republic as that country is experiencing a social upheaval. I therefore went there to show our solidarity with our brotherly people of the Central African Republic, and to express our friendship and communion to them, and to let them know that we are praying for them so that they should not feel abandoned at this difficult moment.

I celebrated Mass in the Cathedral in Bangui where we prayed for a speedy return of peace to the Central African Republic. I paid this visit on behalf of the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon. Special collections were made in particular Churches in Cameroon to this effect. I therefore took along the fruits of these collections to the Central African Republic to permit the Christians and pastors of that Church to meet the needs of the displaced. What I saw struck me.

There are tens of thousands of displaced people, and at the moment, no institution is functioning. The State no longer exists. The only institution that is functioning is the Catholic Church. Actually, the displaced are living in Catholic parishes. It was therefore necessary that we should help our brothers and all those suffering in that country. In a nutshell, the situation in the Central African Republic remains disturbing.

On the other hand, I also visited Congo Brazzaville to take part in the Permanent Council meeting of the Association of Episcopal Conferences of Central Africa better known by its French acronym, ACERAC. I was there to prepare the association’s plenary Assembly. I took part in this meeting to prepare for the assembly which will hold in June. The assembly’s focus will be on the family and all that concerns the family.

Mgr, may we know the amount that the Church in Cameroon raised for the Catholic Church in the Central African Republic?

I think that to avoid to continue hurting other people’s feelings this Lent, we have to go back to the teaching of Christ which says, ”When you do a charitable act, let your left hand not know what your right hand is doing.” (Mt 6, 1-8). The most essential is that we came to the assistance of our brothers, and they really appreciated what we did and that is the most important.

How did priests in the Central African Republic see the initiative of paying them a visit and giving them moral support? When he paid a short visit to Douala, the Archbishop of Bangui and President of the National Episcopal Conference of that country, Mgr. Dieudonné Nzapalainga, expressed his joy and satisfaction.

I was able to meet at least three bishops, and they were all happy with what we had done, especially our decision to reach out to them, to let them know that we are their brothers, and that we are standing by them; that we have not abandoned them, and that we are praying for them. That was well appreciated and besides, Mgr. Dieudonné Nzapalainga, presented the Church in our country to other bishops as an example in the area of ecclesial solidarity.

As I mentioned earlier, our brothers in the Central African Republic really needed such assistance, or a visit of that nature for us to pray together. That is why I was able to meet all the authorities in that country. Our Christian arm, especially during difficult moments, is prayer. That is what I wanted to do on behalf of all the Bishops of Cameroon.

Many Christians are asking why the Archbishop of Douala chose to visit Bangui at a time when insecurity has become the order of the day? When we have made up our mind to serve the Lord, we have to respond to His call under any circumstance. When your brother is suffering, you cannot allow him alone in his suffering and abandon him to himself.

Let me give you an example. Christ knew what was going to happen to Him in Jerusalem. They were waiting for Him to kill Him, but He went. As a Bishop, what is important to me is to assist the suffering people of the Central African Republic. From the day I went to Bangui, on February 24, 2014, right up to the entrance of the airport, we heard sounds of gun shots. We, however, told ourselves that the most essential was that we came to comfort our brothers.

It was exactly to show them how close we are to them. Danger must not be an obstacle when we want to help a brother who is suffering, or when we want to pray with him. It suffices to confide in God, as we did what we did in God’s name. I was, therefore, not afraid.

The Central African Republic has been plunged into a confessional war that cannot be explained. Is it not absurd to find someone killing his own brother because of religious differences?

I think when we talk of a religious war in the Central African Republic, it is necessary to analyse the situation. Seleka did not take over power in the Central African Republic to proclaim or impose a religion. Their first concern was to loot and grab the country’s wealth. All the vehicles they stole were taken either to Sudan or Chad.

They were first interested in amassing wealth, whether their owners were Christians or Moslems. I think all Seleka soldiers were not devout Moslems. But it was a group that was prone to raids. But the anti-balaka, on their part, came together to defend themselves and wade off these aggressors. All this gives the impression that Christians are against Moslems. But if you look at the situation closely, a Christian has never been killed because he believed in Jesus Christ, and a Moslem has never been killed, either, because he believes in Allah.

When it is a religious war, you are asked if you have converted or not? If you refuse to convert, you are killed instantly, but that is not the case in the Central African Republic. At the moment, all the Moslems have taken refuge in the structures of the Catholic Church and in presbyteries.

I think it is very dangerous to talk of a confessional war, or to affirm that Christians are being persecuted. I rather think there is something behind all these which should be well analysed. I do not even think all those called the anti-balaka are Christians, considering that they believe in amulets and that they are immunized against bullets. These are not Christian motives.

If we get to the crux of the matter, that’s not it. To simply say it is a block of Christians against a block of Moslems is very dangerous and this can contribute to the country being divided and even create problems in the sub region. I therefore think that one must be very careful before talking of a religious war.

What can Christians in Cameroon learn from what is happening in the Central African Republic? What is happening in that country is very important for us. There was a problem in the Central African Republic in the way the country was run under ex-president François Bozizé. There was poverty and the country was not being constructed and that brought in discontentment.

When we talk of justice and peace, it is first important to eliminate all that brings about these conflicts and all that can create situations of injustice. When people are not happy because their rights are not respected, this creates potential sources of conflict. I think this is at the origin of the conflict in the Central African Republic.

If the country was well governed, her riches equitably distributed and the country being developed, the others (including Seléka) would not have come in. While discussing with people, one leaves with the impression that poverty and misery are behind the present conflict. It is true that at the national and international level certain people are benefitting from the situation.

Cameroon has just celebrated 50 years of Reunification. How can you analyse the situation?

Celebrating such an event is a very important initiative since it is a historical fact. When I look back at this celebration, it seems to me that an occasion was taken advantage of to carry out manifestations simply to draw attention. For me it would have been important for us to carry out certain reflections on how we have constructed our country after 50 years, and to reflect on the ills of our country today, the causes of injustice and misery in our country.

In Douala and Yaoundé, for example, people are living under very difficult conditions in some quarters, and this brings to the fore a poverty that we do not merit. For me this is not supposed to be the situation in Cameroon. And on the occasion of such an event, we would have reflected on the riches that we have in Cameroon and which we call the common good. How are the country’s resources shared out to all Cameroonians? I think we were supposed to reflect in this way to avoid discontentment in the future. It is at this level that the celebration of 50 years of Reunification would have had all its meaning.

When we talk of Reunification, the political message seems to be in line with the Church’s message as she encourages fraternity and love between communities. What message do you have for the present and future generations so that Cameroonians should be really united?

Whether it is a political or religious personality, we all have to work to bring something more to the human person: the consideration and respect that we show to each other. These are values that must guide State action, since, it is not only a Christian who wants to live in peace.

All Men want to feel loved, all Men want peace. It is normal that these values should be preached everywhere. Most of our leaders today, if not all, are believers. They are Christians and Moslems. Normally they should act in line with their faith, because faith is that which is deep down in us, since it is faith that makes us to appreciate true values in this world. It is but normal that these messages are connected or linked.

Are you asking me what could be done so that our country is united? We have to start by eliminating all causes of injustice - that all Cameroonians should have the consideration they merit. That we should see that peace cannot be built without justice! That the rights of all Cameroonians should be respected. This is what peace means. If a fellow citizen sleeps in the streets, if he does not eat to his fill, do not tell him that we are united, while you live in opulence. What are we united in? We should get to the point where the rights of all Cameroonians are respected, and that there should be peace for all.

Interviewed by Sylvestre Ndoumou and Bernard Amadou

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