Amidst almost total silence from the media a step has been taken towards a resolution of the political and military crisis in Central African Republic. On July 24, 2014, with the last-minute signing of a hostility-ending agreement, the Forum for national reconciliation and dialogue concluded its work on July 21st in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo. The agreement, which calls for the immediate end to fighting throughout the entire Central African Republic, was signed by forty Central African and foreign members.
Begun in December 2012, the fighting has led to thousands of deaths and more than 4.5 million internally displaced persons and refugees, despite the deployment of French Sangaris forces and African MISCA troops to halt the fighting. In recent months the situation has improved, although there remains division between northeastern areas with a Muslim majority and southwestern areas with a Christian and Animist majority. Consequently the Muslim population that has remained in the southwest areas often lives in refugee camps and is discriminated against, as is the Christian population in the northeast. In early July the church of Bambari was attacked causing the death of many Christian refugees. Therefore this Brazzaville agreement was welcomed with hope, but its practical consequences still remain to be seen.
The Focolare community has responded with much imagination to the many necessities of the people and, thanks to the communion among many people, many forms of help have been provided,” explains Monica from Bangui. In March, for example, with the Youth For A United World from Bangui, “we asked each other what we could do concretely to help bring peace in our country. With our ideal of brotherhood in mind, we saw that if the art of loving were lived on a large scale it would help provide a solution to many difficult situations that people are going through. Another question we had was where to find the people at this moment. The answer was: in the refugee camps” (thirty of them in the capital alone).
We began at the Major Seminary which shelters more than 4,500 people. On Sunday, March 24th, with music and testimonies, the young people launched a powerful message of peace, not only to the refugees but also many others who joined in. Unfortunately, the situation has worsened with new clashes in several areas. In recent months a “crisis cell” composed of Focolare members was begun to respond to the needs of many Bangui.
A variety of activities have been carried out: from distributing semolina to children in a kindergarten and elementary school without access to adequate nutrition, to distributing school supplies to children whose schooling had been interupted when the military offensive began. This led to the founding of a teachers association that is dedicated to carrying out educational activities that teach peace. School supplies were distributed in exchange for toy weapons that were handed over by the children.
Also economic assistance was provided to young students in exchange for work in the community, as well as economic assistance to cover child and senior health care and rent costs. Radio shows were presented on Notre Dame Radio that promoted peace, with testimonies of people living out the Word of Life, and other aspects of the Focolare’s spirituality of unity.