Live from Madrid: Bozoum
During these past days in Madrid, Spain, has echoed many times the name of the capital city of the Republic of Central Africa: Bozoum. Yes: Bozoum with its colors, its sufferings but also with its smiles.
The Spanish Bar Association (Consejo General de la Abogacía Española) on the anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights uses to celebrate each year a Convention ending with an award to those, people or Institutions, who work and devote themselves on defense of Human Rights. This year, among the winners, there was also the Central Africa, with Monsignor Juan Jose Aguirre (Bishop of Bangassou) and me. Very interesting the reason for the award:
"Mediator of peace, a man of welcome, help and defense, at the risk of his own life, of Christians and Muslims in Central Africa, and active blogger in defense of Human Rights"
On Tuesday I had left Turin, and leaving Paris behind, I reached Madrid a very beautiful city. On Wednesday morning I have a meeting with the team in charge for the ceremony, facing some interviews. Early afternoon, around 1.00 pm, I meet my sister and my nice Marisa Luisella, just arrived from Italy. They will be with me during these special days.
In the evening I go to say hello to Fr. Juan Montero, the translator for the Spanish language blog.
Thursday is the great day. Yet more interviews. Then at 6.30 pm the ceremony begins with words of greetings from the Minister of Justice. There are 5 winners: the journalist Henrique Cyberman, which took part at the organization of the special meeting in the Vatican City between Pope Francis, Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas; the "Ciudad de Escuela de los Muchachos" and Inigo de Ortz Mendibil, 2 Institutions working with and for children and kids at risk; I and Monsignor Aguirre brother from Central Africa.
Each one of the awarded says something ... and so I made this speech:
Good evening everyone! I feel very excited. I apologize if my pronunciation of your language isn’t perfect. It’s a great honor to be here with you this evening, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kind invitation. As a Carmelite, son of St. Teresa of Avila, it’s one more reason of being proud. Allow me to say my thanks to you. This award allows highlighting a forgotten crisis of a forgotten Country, the Central African Republic. In two year time we sadly can count thousands of victims. Because of the same crisis more than a million people (a quarter of the population) had to flee away from their home seeking refuge elsewhere. When they are lucky, shelter can be found at the Catholic Missions, or they have to leave the Country. On December 2013, after more than eight months, the Seleka rebels, which most of them, Arabic speaking, are from Chad and Sudan, have fulfilled finally they rules of terror. For us were months of tortures, theft, looting, killings, rapes and destruction. At a certain point part of the population ( the antibalaka ) arms itself (the antibalaka) and begin fighting the Seleka, but unfortunately they fight also against our Muslim people which in part are in favor of Seleka. Thousands of people fled, some into the forest, about 4-6 thousand of them to the Catholic Mission. Receiving them, feeding them, caring for them, it was ensuring safety and keeping hope alive. This has been my and our work for over a month and a half.
Meanwhile, along with men and women of good will, we put together a Mediation Committee in order to find a peaceful alternative to war. Catholics, Protestants, Muslims all united for the same goal. We went to discuss with Seleka, the antibalaka, Muslims, non-Muslims. This patient and courageous work allowed to limit the number of wounded and dead people, and led finally to the departure of Seleka rebels.
It seems to me simply right if I share the Award with the following people: Barthélémy Mondele, Jonas Nodjitouloum, Thierry Kanghal, the Pastor Samuel Laoue, Monique, Joseph and five Muslims, and myself. Once more: thanks for this award.
Allow me to say: this isn’t the only award that I did receive. A good number more have been given to me during these two years of war. These Awards I hold very dearly.
The first: a slap I received from Goni, a Seleka rebel, mad at me simply because I did complain with them of the torture and arbitrary arrests against our people. The second award: the broken windows of my car, cracked by the crowd of Muslims who wanted to prevent the departure of the Seleka rebels. The third award: on January 13, I drove back to the Mission, after obtaining the departure of the Seleka rebels accompanied by throwing of stones and threatened with weapons by Muslims. Once at the Mission people shouted for joy, because they feared that I had been killed. And threw their cloaks under my car wheels, which to me it seemed like Palm Sunday! The fourth award: the eyes of a young Muslim and of "10/15", the nickname of a Seleka, looking at me. Both of them prevented the Muslim crowd to kill or hurt me. A fifth prize: the thousands smiles of thousands children during the month and a half when they had taken refuge at the Mission. Much of my work, in addition to the organization, it was keeping myself busy in giving smiles to each one of them, in order to make them feel comfortable with us. I can assure you: I received back much more from them than I had given. The sixth award: more than 15,000 children, both last year and this year, they could go to school! In a Country at war, keeping open schools it’s a severe challenge and a positive answer to the violence! Going to school means to sow the future, means distract children from violence, means giving hope to their parents and a reason to enjoy peace. The seventh award: a phone call by Muslim friends from Chad or Cameroon asking about my health and life. The eighth award: the offertory I organized a month ago among my parishioners in Bozoum. I was asked to collect something for approximately 200 Muslims who remained in Bozoum. The most of them were women and children. At my parish we have a monthly collection for the needy. Usually we collect food and money, about 15-20 Euros. That Sunday, my Christians moved me: they brought lots of food and almost 70 Euros. My dear, I have to say how lucky I’m! I give thanks to God each and every day for the gift of being able to live and work in Central Africa.
And now I thank you for your kindness, for your sensitivity, for your everyday work.