“The war has changed since its outbreak six years ago. It is no longer a clash between two factions, the Seleka and the anti-Balaka. There are many small armed groups that carry out violent acts of retaliation and revenge. It’s never-ending. The peace agreements have not been effective and the government is unable to guarantee security”, Fr Federico Trinchero, Discalced Carmelite from the Italian town of Casale Monferrato, serving as missionary in the Central African Republic for the past years, told SIR. Fr Trinchero coordinates the religious formation of twelve youths, he is the Father and teacher of the community: nineteen white friars who live in Bimbo, on the outskirts of the capital, in a vast 130 hectare plot of agricultural land. The Carmelite monastery in Bangui became renowned during Pope Francis’ visit in 2015, at the opening of the Jubilee of Mercy, for having taken in over 10,000 refugees between the end of 2013 and March 2017. In this long period the Discalced Carmelites have lived with the suffering and distress of the refugees. In addition to apostolic and educational activities, the mission has also implemented projects to help people fleeing the conflict and the local inhabitants, the most important and effective of which was financed with EUR 390 000 from the funds of the 8×1000 tax contributions to CEI and by a French organization founded by two missionaries in Cameroon. The project, which ends in November 2019, has already initiated a successful production of interlocking bricks in clay, sand, cement and water. Many former refugees are now factory workers and bricklayers. It also includes an agricultural school and breeding activities, since “those who work don’t wage war.”
“If there is a country to be built, why not try to produce bricks? Real bricks, new, strong, stronger than war”, Fr Trinchero said back then. Pope Francis was the first customer of the Carmelite brick factory in Bangui. A centre for malnourished people wanted by the Pope was also built using the Carmelite bricks. This is where you can find long rows of palm oil trees, vegetable gardens and pasturelands. For this reason, even FAO ( the United Nations Food Fund) has asked the Carmelites to use the land for an ambitious pilot project for the vocational training and job placement of 500 young people. The initiative, supported by two Nobel Peace Laureates (the inventor of microcredit Mohammed Yunus and Yemeni leader Tawakkul Karman) implemented by Coopi, has a budget of EUR 2 million. So far, a henhouse has been built and young people have been taught how to raise hens, in addition to soap production. The friars are also anxiously awaiting the arrival of about thirty cows.
In Bangui “the days pass peacefully, but it is only an optical illusion”, said the missionary. The last massacre, with dozens of civilians brutally murdered, took place a week ago in two villages about fifty kilometres from Paoua, on the border with Chad. The militiamen of the 3R group, led by one of the signatories of the Khartoum agreements in February 2019, summoned the inhabitants of the two villages for a meeting and then opened fire indiscriminately. “It’s hard for us to understand the reasons behind these attacks – continues Father Trinchero -. Perhaps revenge, perhaps to seize control of mining districts.”
“Or maybe their goal is to divide and destabilize the Country.”
In the past three years fear has returned in Central Africa. Despite eight peace agreements “at least 75% of the Country is under the control of armed groups”, said the missionary. Massacres of civilians, reprisals, murders of priests and nuns continue. Two priests, along with about eighty civilians, were killed in the massacre of 15 November last in Alindao, 500 km from Bangui, in a displacement camp near the cathedral that was completely destroyed. Houses have been plundered and the church was desecrated. An elderly nun from the French community Filles de Jésus was murdered in Nola about ten days ago. Despite the war and the presence of over 650,000 displaced people on Central African territory – on a population of 4.5 million – the Carmelite Father believes “there is great hope in the country. The human capital here is enormous, young people are keen to make a difference.”
“Although the situation is currently deadlocked, with the State abdicating its power and widespread violence, I have faith in the young generations, in their willingness to change things.”