Sunday, February 02, 2014

Prayers and Actions on Behalf of the People of the Central African Republic

The Central African Republic is almost 8,000 miles from where I sit in Albuquerque. The huge distance makes it very easy not to be aware of the crisis that has developed in the former French colony, a landlocked country of more than 4.4 million.

As an anti-hunger advocate, I try to stay on top of the important issues. But chances are the CAR would not have crossed my mind this Sunday were it  not for a recent article by Rev. Jim Wallis in Sojourners, who said, "as I have followed the reports coming from Central African Republic (CAR), I am heartbroken over the suffering of a people the world seems to have forgotten."

To be fair, there has been some media coverage of the conflict in the CAR, but in this day of information overload, the crisis might have become just one of many revolving issues on a ticker-tape menu of coverage. 

Mega Crisis
Speaking to the BBC in the capital, Bangui, John Ging of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the country was in a "mega-crisis". Mr Ging said that many in the population were living in fear because of religious and ethnic attacks. He said the concern now was that matters could worsen further. Last week the UN warned that the country faced disaster because of people fleeing the conflict to pack into overcrowded camps with poor sanitation. BBC on Jan. 15

So who are these armed rebels and why are they attacking innocent civilians? An AP article (in  The New York Times) offers an explanation: 

Christians and Muslims have lived peaceably in Central African Republic for generations, but political struggles between former President François Bozizé and Michel Djotodia, who ousted Mr. Bozizé last year with the backing of Muslim militias, have engendered sectarian strife. Mr. Djotodia’s departure this month and the installation of an interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, have not brought relief to civilians. United Nations officials continue to warn of the risk of genocide. Children have been recruited to fight. Roughly one in five people have fled their homes, and the World Food Program estimates that a majority of the country’s 4.6 million people are eating one meal a day.

A Prayer from CRS
Is this a religious or political strife? Can you claim to be a devout Muslim or devout Christian and commit murder in the name of self- (or group) preservation?

I offer excerpts this prayer from Catholic Relief Services.

Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga and Imam Omour Kobine of Bangui pray together during a tour promoting tolerance and reconciliation in Central African Republic. (Photo by Sam Phelps for CRS)
Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga and Imam Omour Kobine of Bangui pray together during a tour promoting tolerance and reconciliation in Central African Republic. (Photo by Sam Phelps for CRS)
Loving God,

We ask that your spirit touch the peoples of the Central African Republic.
That brother no longer turn against brother.
Nor sister against sister.
May your children learn to live side by side:
To forgive
To reconcile
To build and not tear down.
And so may we all.
Lord, who calls all peacemakers blessed,
Empower all peacemakers inside and outside the Central African Republic:
To stand up for the vulnerable
To harbor the refugee
To aid the afflicted
To comfort the frightened
To work and advocate for justice
To say “No more!” to violence.
 (download full prayer in PDF)

Rev. Jim Wallis on Why We Should Care
And here is some perspective from  Rev. Wallis:
So what can we do? And why should we care? CAR does not have in-demand exports. Even before the crisis began, CAR ranked 180th out of 187 on the UN’s Human Development index. There is no economic or political reason why the suffering in CAR should capture our hearts.

But that is why, as people of faith and followers of Christ, we should care. Jesus said, “whenever you failed to help any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you failed to do it for me.” (Matthew 25:45, CEV). It violates our deepest moral principles when we fail to speak out for the common good for all — not just our particular groups, tribes, or sects.

The example of our sisters and brothers working for peace in CAR should inspire us to advocate for a resolution to this crisis. We should contact our members of Congress and ask that our embassy be reopened — not only as a sign of our support, but because its closure impedes the work of peace in the country. And we should remind our elected representatives that our best values tell us that children — no matter what country they’re from — should be protected from war, not recruited to fight it.

So on this Super Bowl Sunday, when we are distracted by many other things, I urge us to keep the people of the CAR in our hearts and in our minds.

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