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Thursday, December 29, 2011

It’s Christmas too in Bozoum!

A child holding a small present (could be a whistle, a doll, a small car
or a ball, even a fake mobile phone) this is Christmas as well.

Last year Hyppolite had an accident during class…unfortunately he was
paralyzed waist down from the fall. Yet he keeps a smile on his face, even
if he suffers from a deep wound affecting his spine…. Finally today he was
baptized, along with a girl and another boy, Ulrich who suffers from Down
This too, is Christmas! 
 Christmas is an afternoon spent with the orphans at the “Rainbow” Center;
with their nativity set made out of air-drying clay, blue elephants and
clothe trees….

Christmas is in the queue of the poor, waiting patiently for some food,
this day we managed to feed them some cookies and goodies, it’s Christmas
for them too

Christmas is in the nativity set, Christmas is in the twinkling lights
Christmas is in the wreaths made out of old newspaper scraps and some
Christmas blown glass ornaments.
Christmas is in the Panettone we made (even if it’s a little burnt!)

Christmas is in the song GLORIA IN EXCELSIS DEO that bursted out our
voices after the communion (a sumba, they say, in sango, the local

It is yet another Christmas, and praise the Lord (it is really the right
thing to say!)
It is always! 

 The Child lying in the manger is truly God's Son. God is not eternal
Solitude but rather a circle of love and mutual self-giving. He is
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

But there is more: in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God himself, and God
rom God, became man. To him the Father says: "You are my son". God's
everlasting "today" has come down into the fleeting today of the world
And lifted our momentary today into God's eternal today. God is so great
That he can become small. God is so powerful that he can make himself
Vulnerable and come to us as a defenseless child, so that we can love
Him. God is so good that he can give up his divine splendor and come
Down to a stable, so that we might find him, so that his goodness might
touch us, give it to us and continue to work through us. This is
Christmas: "You are my son, this day I have begotten you". God has become
one of us, so that we can be with him and become like him. As a sign, he
chose the Child lying in the manger: this is how God is. This
Is how we come to know him? And on every child shines something of the
Splendor of that "today", of that closeness of God, which we ought to
Love and to which we must yield -- it shines on every child, even on
Those still unborn.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Big celebration on the 18th of December in Bozoum

 Big celebration on the 18th of December here in Bozoum: the Carmelitan Fathers celebrated their 40th years anniversary of the first missionary arrival in Bozoum. Many years ago, that December, Father Carlo and Father Nicola (in the picture below) with Father Marco arrived in Bozoum, welcomed by Capuchin monks. (The former priest is now bishop of Bouar's Diocese, in which Bozoum is included) Yesterday we celebrated the sacerdotal ordering of a young Central African father Cyriaque

We all gathered together here in Bozoum. Yole seminarians came after 250
km drive in a truck...
Clerical students, nuns and fathers of different missions were there
Saturday evening, dinnertime, we were 50 people in the community, more
than 200 were in the schools, which came from the nearby villages!

Sunday 18th of December we had a great celebration, deeply intense and
beautiful. 23 priests, 2 deacons, the Bishop and a massive flood of people
We celebrated Mass in front of the new College St. Augustin, with
magnificent hymns, beautiful dances and a profound involvement
After the homily we sang the litanies chants for all the saints, whilst
the ordered person was lying on the floor. Then the Bishop laid his hands
on Father Cyriaque and everyone along with him and Father Cyriaque became

Right after he wore the chasuble and sacerdotal vestments, the Bishop
presented him with the chalice and the paten, as a symbol of his ministry,
at the service of Eucharist and sacraments.

On that moment all the priests came to hug him, we were all very emotional!
Then the young Carmelitans danced around him!
Following the Mass, the celebration kept going with a big lunch (almost
400 people!!!)
Also his family invited the Carmelitan community to a local party in their
...When the newly ordered pries arrived…they made him siting on a chair
and carried him while dancing into the party!

 40 years can be a lot but also just a little. It is good to see how the
Lord can make big things, day after day, despite our feebleness and misery

We prayed and we keep praying that the Lord will keep us in the joy of
working at His service, here in Bozoum, where He called us!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

On Africa we can count

The 1st of December is a big day for the Central African Republic: in 1958 it became a Republic, then few years later in 1960 was proclaimed independent.
Every year, this day represents the essence of this country. 53 years of independence is not bad after all, although there's still a long way to go!

The evening before the day, the Public Representatives were participating to different religious moments, spreading themselves into various churches, chapels and mosques.

Yesterday at 3 pm we gathered into our Church along with a small group of christians and some local authorities for the Eucharistical Celebration.

Just few weeks back the Pope was visiting Africa, in the State of Benin and he spoke about very important topics, focusing  on the Hope that Africa could live and could bring into the world.

He did not hesitate on presenting Africa as a model!
After the Benin trip he mentioned these words:" There's a standby of life and vitality for the future that we can depend on, that Church can depend on"
 Retracing the most striking moments of his second trip to Africa, today the Pope has reinstated in the cathechesis of general papal hearing in the Vatican City with these words: "In this crucial phase for the whole continent the Church in Africa, with her commitment to serving the Gospel and with the courageous witness of effective solidarity can play the lead in a new season of hope. In Africa I saw spontaneity in the yes to life, a freshness of the religious sense and of hope, a perception of reality in its totality with God and not reduced to positivism which, in the end, extinguishes hope. All this shows that in this continent there is a reserve of life and vitality for the future, on which we can count, on which the Church can count. My journey has also been an important appeal to Africa to direct its every effort to announcing the Gospel to those who do not yet know it. It is a renewed commitment to evangelization to which every baptized person is called, promoting reconciliation, justice and peace.

And just leaving from Benin, on his last speech at the airport, he said:"Why should an African country not show the rest of the world the path to be taken towards living an authentic fraternity in justice, based on the greatness of the family and of labour? May Africans be able to experience reconciliation in peace and justice! These are the prayerful good wishes which I express to you, with confidence and hope, before I leave Benin and the African continent."

Today, 1st of December, there is a big celebration, with the "DEFILE", a parade with schoolchildren, groups, local authorities and various people
Our kids too (which among the creche, primary, secondary schools, High school and Orphanage Centre count more than 1100) took part in the parade all with their different school uniform
They are the future of this country!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Today is Feast of Christ The King day!

 Today is Feast of Christ The King day!

Here in Bozoum we traditionally celebrate mass on Mount Binon, an overlooking hill of the city. On the top there is a shaft with a statue of Jesus, which was built by P.Vittorino on 1984
For those who cannot make it  there's an earlier mass in the local parish church and around 8 pm we leave along with the altar boys.

Then we park the car near the tank water supply, and set off on foot towards the top. It takes about twenty minutes walk on a path of turf and stones, and we finally get to the top
(well, so to speak … it's only 200 meters high!)
From here there is a beautiful view of Bozoum and its surroundings. I always like to come here: Jesus who blesses and protects everyone in the city, all those living in here and those just passing by maybe without even realizing that He's here and He doesn't forget anyone!

The Gospel brings us back to the Judgement, when we'll be judged not based on what we wrote, thought, prayed or celebrated, but based on Charity we gave.  Sometimes to strangers, other times given  subconsciously…it is nice to believe that God takes into account everything, even what we do without realizing, without thinking that He was in that poor we helped, in that child,  in whom who suffers, in whom who is in need!
Today there's one further reason to rejoice: the Pope is in Africa, in the State of Benin, where he just delivered an important document summarizing the Synod of Bishops of Africa.
The title of this letter is called "Africae minus" :  Africa's commitment. It's good to see how seriously the Pope considers Africa 

The letter begins with these words:

Africa's commitment to Lord Jesus Christ is a precious treasure, which I commend, for this beginning of the third millennium, to bishops, priests, permanent deacons, consecrated people, catechists and lay people  of this dear continent and nearby islands. This mission brings Africa to delve into our Christian vocation. This mission invites us to live, in the name of Jesus, the reconciliation between the people and communities, and to promote for all peace and justice in  His Truth 
Happy Feast of Christ The King day!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

bandits in Bangkok...

Do not get to laugh ... but this week in Thailand ...... I do not believe it myself!
I was invited to attend a conference on education in emergencies, which began Tuesday, November 8, and ending Friday at 13h.
We are about seventy people from 15 different countries
Congo (DRC)
Cote d'Ivoire
South Soudan
Sri Lanka
The Conference is organized by a body, GCPEA (Global Coalition to Prevent Attack Education), which coordinates all that are attacks on schools, teachers and pupils.
is interesting to see and meet people from different countries, and study how it compares with tragedies and problems, and how everyone tries to invent solutions ...
I was invited to present the work of mediation with the bandits. An interesting story, I present to you!

Receiving an invitation from the bandits does not happen every day.
It is not without concern that I read the letter that the Mayor had sent me from Toumi, discussing road bandits, in July 2007, with the request that they wanted to meet.

The BANDITS: for over four years we lived in fear because of them.
Only in our region, Ouham Pende, in 2006 a survey of nine months on a small number of villages (29), showed 192 attacks in the villages, 143 wounded, 30 dead and 27 rapes and 206 abductions.

The bandits kidnapped people, especially children and young people, and demanded a ransom. This caused a large number of displacement of families leaving their villages (the city of Bozoum increased from 16,000 to 28,000 inhabitants).  Most schools were closed because the parents did not want to take the risk that a child could be kidnapped. In 2007 and 2008 we helped parents to enroll displaced children in the school in Bozoum, and we had opened another school in town for the displaced children from closed schools.
It is in this context, I received this request from the bandits. They wanted to find a way out of their lives, and they asked me to act as an intermediary between them and the Government. They knew very well what we were doing in relation to the displaced families. And I never stopped encouraging people to react, not to be discouraged. In all the villages I invited the adults not to let that 3 or 4 armed men came to kill, injure, remove their children ...We also made an effort not to give up on these villages attacked by the bandits, and we had constructed wells, latrines and so on to try to encourage communities.

Contacting the Parties
After receiving this letter, we reflected on what could be done. I also contacted the authorities in the capital to keep them informed and got a very positive response from the Presidency.
So on July 31, 2007, a Political Advisor of the President, the Military Councilor and the Chief of Staff of the President left to go to Bozoum to attend this meeting. We, the 4 of us in my car, unescorted and unarmed but with a great desire to seek a solution to this problem, but also with a lot of fear ... There was no agreement before on this, but  we thought it was better to go unarmed and unescorted, to show our confidence and willingness to seek a peaceful solution.
First Negotiation between Bandits and Authorities
This first meeting was held in Toumi, a small village 75 km from Bozoum (475 km from the capital Bangui). Fortunately we were a good team with very good understanding and agreement on the situation: two Central Africans, one French, one Italian ... each one with its experience and strengths.

The purpose of the meeting was the first to understand what drove the road bandits to live that way and why they had contacted us to change their lives. Most of them were young people of Tchad, but also from Niger, Cameroon and Sudan.  Each of them with its history, and all with several years of violence, theft and different crimes, with stories of drugs and alcohol, but also with families ... We could see they were tired, ill, nostalgic for their  family and normal life, also some moral reasons, or religious beliefs (they were almost all Muslims).
For me, being a priest, without political or military biais, I could speak more freely than others, and tell them what they did was not acceptable, and that any response to their requests (from the Government as from NGOs) could not be granted if their actions and crime would not stopped.

I thought I was a little hard, but I saw, it was what they wanted from me.  And indeed, after this meeting, the bandits stopped the attacks although it took a while because they were divided into several groups, and not all agreed.

On our way back, we were still alive and happier that on our way there! Especially pleased to have been quietly talking with these men, and also with the village community. Their requests? It was mainly the opportunity to return home, their families, without the risk of being arrested or hurt. They also had strange requests (money or otherwise), which we said there was no question. The Government has not given money. But he gave some food to sustain them during the time that the bandits did not steal and kidnap.

Subsequent Meetings
We returned several times for further discussion. Meanwhile we looked at all levels (EU, Embassies, UN, NGOs) to obtain aid or advice, but nobody was willing or able to respond. And the Government's ideas were not clear. We consider consolidating bandits groups, identifying them and make them return to their country, but we wanted clear conditions for their governments and for the bandits:
-          For the bandits: to stay calm in their family, not to move or reenter into banditry in other areas.

During the month of October, we could not make the meeting in the school of Toumi ... because the school was finally occupied by students ... it was a great step forward: see students (over 300) in school, to see people mix with the bandits without fear ... even in other villages in the same area, the situation was calmer.

This conflict negotiation approach has often lead to a good improvement of the situation in several villages.
  • The return of IDPs and the reconstruction of their villages.
  • School and work in schools had a double impact:
-          In one hand the students were back to school (which brought return to normalcy in their lives)
-          Secondly, an open school engages parents, government and rebels in a certain respect and discussion, which also supports the peace process. Rebels or road bandit  would usually let the headmaster to return in the village or reopen the schools, which allowed students to return or go to school

New Attacks
In February 2008, a new event caused a sudden setback: another group of bandits attacked a convoy of cars, and kidnapped two doctors from CAR on mission.  The Government could not do as usual (that is to say or ‘do nothing’), it intervened with the military for a sweep of the area. The government was not united, and that's a problem ... Some were not aware; some were...Which complicated things...

At this point, the bandits preferred to avoid risks, and they departed. In the meanwhile, the villages have formed security groups, which prevented the return of the bandits. Generally, the groups were not violent. In Bozoum at least, they were well organized, with an official, a small committee who will also monitor the village committees. They have been trained on what they could do as citizens, and what was forbidden by law. The President of the Tribunal provided the training. They even intervened to punish certain elements who did not respected these commitments.

For the rebels, the approach was somewhat similar. But also a bit more complicated, because they had political interests  ... This is the fight against a central government. It is a struggle between power and opposition, but often they become part of the political game: a point of strength, a resource to play in the table to get the power, (to get civil servant position, ministerial posts ...). Some requests were reasonable (school, health, economic recovery, and fight against corruption ...), but others were impossible (power-sharing, new government, new elections ...). Some rebels come from the Community attacked: they are often more difficult elements, who have problems with the rest of the population, and youth who have very few prospects, and where the rebellion may be an element of social promotion.

In 2005-2006 began the other problem of the country: armed rebellion. These are gangs of youths, adults and some ex-military, with some political agenda, that arise as liberators, and began to occupy some part of the territory, not only because of the weakness of the state, but also of the Army.

Talks with Rebels
Among the rebels there are young idealists, but also people without principles.
With the rebels, the approach was similar, although with some differences, mainly due to the political element, which is more complicated. In addition ... the population was often between the rock and a hard place: a victim of both the rebels and the army.
The goal for us was to create opportunities for the civilian population, the state authorities and the rebels to meet and talk. So they could find a solution.

Lessons Learned
I know every country has a different situation.  What I can say about what we experienced in CAR (and we still live in many of these areas) is that first you must believe in peace. It's hard, but without hope and faith in man, it will not come out. There are aspects which worked for us:

  • Role of priest. An important aspect is the fact that being a priest, and thus enjoy a fairly neutral position, while very committed to the people which made things easier, compared to armed men with local communities and civil authorities.

  • Clarity and honesty of approach. BE CLEAR and straightforward. Do not promise what you can reasonably get or give. Do not be afraid to comment and get people to change.

Good faith effort of the parties to negotiate. Have serious players, especially from the Government. I was very lucky to work with people with a genuine concern for the population. But this is not always possible.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Trips and other things...

Please excuse my silence!
Laziness apart. . . I have not written anything because, for these two weeks, I have also been engaged in various trips. . .


Last week I was at Bouar (250 km), where we met with those in charge of Caritas in some of the parishes in this region. Caritas was well described by Paul VI in these words: “the hands and heart of the Church”. At times Caritas becomes confused with the many such like organizations, because it is often directly involved in projects of great importance and urgency. But Caritas is first of all the commitment of all Christians to spread and give witness to the love that they have received from God. For this, the parish dimension is important, with care, listening and hard work, in meeting people in need.

This week however, I left on Wednesday, around 1.30 in the afternoon, to go North. The roads are truly abominable, particularly in this the rainy season. . . I arrived at Ngaoundaye, 205 km away, around 6.30 in the evening. . .
The reason for the trip was to meet cooperatives, men and women who work together in various fields (agriculture, commerce, soap making or other food processing work). I wished to explain to them the value and importance of saving and credit.
Here at Bozoum we have a savings bank, and we intend to open another 3 branches at Ngaoundaye, Ndim and Koui.

Thursday morning there was a meeting at Ngaoundaye, then we set off for Ndim around 11 a.m. Here we met with the lady Mayor, and others in charge, then set off around three in the afternoon for Bocaranga.

Here I spent the night at the Catholic Mission, and yesterday, Friday, we set off around 6.30 a.m. for Koui, where we arrived at 8.00 a.m. – (one and a half hours to travel 40 km along the road. . . and I assure you, there was no traffic!!!)
Here we met with the Sultan!!!! He showed us the terrain he was willing to be used for the savings bank. Then, we had a meeting with the women and men of Koui. This is an interesting area, where once was a farm that produced milk, and a cheese factory that processed around 2,000 litres of milk a day! It seems science fiction, yet we are speaking of only 40 years ago. . .

At 11.00 in the morning we left for Bocaranga, and then reached Bozoum, just in time for a beautiful downpour. . .
Along the road, I like to see the schools, that timidly and slowly are reopening. . . more than a month late. . . I stopped to visit one, consisting of three huts, one covered with a tarpaulin. . . but the children were there, waiting for the teacher to begin lessons. . .