Christians Suffering in Central African Republic: Islamists 'Targeting Churches,' Says Bishop

Reports from Africa indicate that militia soldiers under the control of the Central African Republic's government are looting and destroying Christian churches and mission stations.

Aid to the Church in Need reported that the Islamist group Séléka, which seized control of the country in March, has wounded or killed a number of Christians.

Bishop Albert Vanbuel of Kaga Bandoro Diocese described the deteriorating situation in the country as "a rebellion by religious extremists with evil intentions, characterized by a deliberate program of desecration and destruction of religious buildings, especially Christian ones."

"They are targeting Catholic and Protestant churches," the bishop, who is also president of the Justice and Peace commission, told Mideast Christian News. "Throughout the country, the Catholic Church has paid dearly with many buildings damaged and groups within Séléka continue to kill each day."

Aid to the Church in Need has sent emergency relief totaling close to $100,000 to four dioceses to help the Christians that have fled their homes and are taking refuge in the countryside. The relief includes essential supplies such as blankets, food, and medicine.

Fr. Anastasio Roggero, mission procurator of the Carmelites in Italy who lived in the Central African Republic, described how an armed soldier climbed over the Bour-Yolè mission wall on the night of April 26. The intruder forced the mission superior, Fr Enrico, as well as Fr Marco and Fr Maurice to get down on their knees. The soldier beat Fr Maurice and stole a computer.

Séléka, which means "alliance" in the local Sango dialect, was formed after six Islamist groups from Sudan, Chad, Darfur and the Central African Republic merged together as one group.

The rebels forced former president François Bozizé to flee to Cameroon after they stormed the presidential palace in March 2013. Shortly thereafter, the political opposition in the country brokered a deal with Séléka in which Michel Djotodia, a militia leader, became the new president.

In his homily during mass on the third Sunday after Easter, Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga said that "Christ is not abandoning his people in Central Africa".

He urged Christians "even in tragic situations to bear true witness like the Apostles to Christ, the victor over fear, hatred, violence and death, and the Lord of trust, love, peace and life."

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