Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired Archbishop of Washington, DC, joined religious leaders this week in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, to promote a message of peace in this country where violence is too often along religious lines.
The leaders were joined by Catholic Relief Services staff, UN and representatives of the U.S. State Department, as well as members of inter-faith youth and women’s groups, who have worked tirelessly to restore peace since fighting erupted in late 2012.
Cardinal McCarrick visited CAR in a show of support to three of the country’s top religious leaders – Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga, Imam Omar Kobine Layama and Reverend Nicolas Guerekoyame Gbangou – who just concluded a tour of the U.S. calling on the UN and the Administration of President Obama to support peacekeeping efforts in CAR. He was also joined by Imam Mohamed Magid of the Islamic Society of North America and Pastor Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals.
A quarter of the population in CAR has been displaced, and thousands killed since March 2013 when a rebel group made up of mostly Muslims, named Seleka, overthrew the government, looting and destroying properties and creating lawlessness. As the country descended into chaos, non-Muslim security groups, known as Anti-balaka, began indiscriminately killing members of the Muslim community. As their homes and mosques have been burnt and their neighborhoods wiped out, thousands of Muslims have fled to neighboring countries.
During their visit this week, religious leaders from both CAR and the United States visited a mosque and participated in a discussion with Central African civil society, government officials and Anti-balaka and Seleka representatives. Cardinal McCarrick spoke about his increased understanding of the country’s plight and promised to stay engaged in the peacebuilding process after returning to the U.S. He then told participants that the three religions represent a family, united by a belief in one single God – the God of Abraham.
Imam Magid shared an example of interreligious harmony from his mosque, which serves 5,000 Muslim families and includes five branches, two of which are hosted by a synagogue. When members of the Mosque heard about the burning of Christian churches in Pakistan, they raised $50,000 to rebuild two of them. Pastor Anderson, for his part, said that U.S. evangelicals stand in solidarity with Central Africans and said he would pray for a return of peace and prosperity to the country.
Youth and women from the CAR Interreligious platform, supported by CRS, gave testimonies about their situation in this conflict and their hopes for a restored peace. The delegation then met with CAR Interim President, Catherine Samba-Panza.
In a gesture of their unity, the religious leaders signed a Declaration for Peace, “renouncing violence and encouraging intercommunity and inter-religious dialogue to mitigate tensions and lay the foundations for a new peaceful coexistence in CAR.”
CRS and its Caritas partners have carried out an emergency response since the onset of the conflict, providing emergency relief assistance that includes shelter, food, living supplies, agricultural recovery, and medical care on a foundation of social cohesion and conflict resolution.