In a recently published book, Cardinal Nzapalainga reflects on his life as a Spiritan priest, Archbishop of Bangui, Cardinal, peacemaker, hopes and challenges of life in CAR.
Paul Samasumo – Vatican City.
Cardinal Dieudonné Nzapalainga, the Archbishop of Bangui in the Central African Republic (CAR), has just published a book with the French journalist Laurence Desjoyaux titled Je suis venu vous apporter la Paix (roughly translated as I come to bring peace). Vatican News’ Cyprien Viet caught up with the Cardinal to talk about the book.
A complex conflict
As Archbishop of Bangui, Cardinal Nzapalainga has worked tirelessly to promote peace and reconciliation among the warring factions of CAR and a people fractured by civil war and constant insecurity.
United Nations reports indicate that there is some improvement towards peace since the conflict started in 2013. However, the security situation in CAR remains precarious, as evidenced by recent rebel attacks on the outskirts of the capital, Bangui. The attacks were in violation of the 2019 Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in CAR (Accord Politique pour la Paix et la Réconciliation en RCA).
Instability in the Central African Republic is driven by complex realities. These include politics, ethnicity, religion and historical grievances against the alleged marginalisation of Muslims in the country. Insecurity is also fuelled by regional and international actors. The situation is not helped by the fact that CAR’s national government has struggled to govern the whole country because various armed groups control mineral-rich areas of the sovereign territory. The groups collect taxes in areas under their control. Some of CAR’s politicians and warlords have also exploited religious sentiments for selfish political purposes. By roping in religious feelings, Christians are sometimes pitted against Muslim communities. Nevertheless, it has to be said that traditionally, various religious communities have peacefully co-existed for years in CAR.
Three religious leaders and The Platform
Starting in 2013, when thousands of people fell victim to atrocities, killings and countless violations of human rights, Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga worked with an imam and a protestant pastor to foster national peace and reconciliation.
Joining forces with Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, president of the Central African Islamic Community, and Reverend Nicolas Guerekoyame-Gbangou, president of the Evangelical Alliance in the CAR, the three religious leaders created what has come to be known as, The Platform. This is a forum officially known as the Interfaith Religious Platform of the Central African Republic. Through this forum, the three religious leaders promote interreligious dialogue in communities divided by hatred and fear. They are united in the belief that peace can only be restored to CAR through healing and reconciliation. This healing, they say, should start from within the hearts of ordinary persons and in the communities where they live.
It has not always been plain sailing for The Platform. In spite of international acclaim, the trio have had a share of crticis from suspicious locals sceptical about their intentions. The Platform has sometimes struggled, at the local level, to get across its message of peace and reconciliation. However, the three religious leaders are forging ahead, courageously.
Inspired by Pope Francis’ visit to CAR
Today, Cardinal Nzapalainga is considered one of the most listened-to persons on matters to do with the Central African Republic. In his book, the Cardinal speaks about his life’s journey and continuing peace-making efforts.
Inevitably one of the highlights the Cardinal talked about is Pope Francis’ visit to CAR in 2015. The Cardinal told Vatican News’ Cyprien Viet that Pope Francis’ visit was like a “light coming into the darkness. We were prisoners of violence, prisoners of despair, of anguish. We could not see how to get out of this tunnel. The Pope’s visit brought us together, brought us peace, brought us hope. Today, in CAR, Muslims, Protestants, Catholics acknowledge Pope Francis as a man of peace. The Pope reached out to Muslims and showed himself as one who dared to take off his shoes to pray with them. What a mark of respect! Pope Francis also dared to go to the Protestants (FATEB -the Evangelical School of Theology in Bangui). Such simplicity, what humility! This is also a Pope who dared to do what no other Pope in history has done: Open the Holy Door (of the Cathedral in Bangui thus inaugurating the Year of Mercy) outside Rome. For Catholics, this was something unheard of! And we find ourselves, again and again, reminiscing about the Pope’s visit to our country. It was a gift from God,” narrated the prelate of Bangui.
The meteoric rise of Cardinal Nzapalainga
Cardinal Dieudonné Nzapalainga, C.S.Sp., the Archbishop of Bangui, Central African Republic, was born on 14 March 1967 in Mbomou under the Diocese of Bangassou, Central African Republic. After primary school, he entered the minor seminary of Saint Louis in Bangassou and then the Saints-Apôtres major seminary of Philosophy of Otélé, Cameroon, before continuing his studies at the Daniel Brottier Spiritan major seminary, in Libreville Gabon.
He made his first vows in the Congregation of the Spiritan Fathers on 5 September 1993 and his perpetual vows on 6 September 1997. Cardinal Nzapalainga was ordained a priest on 9 August 1998. In the following years, he obtained a Licentiate in Theology at the Jesuit Centre Sèvres, in France. He was, however, recalled to the Central African Republic by his superiors to carry out the function of regional superior.
On 14 May 2012, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as Metropolitan Archbishop of Bangui. He was ordained Bishop on 22 July of the same year aged 45. On 19 November 2016, the Archbishop of Bangui was elevated to the office of Cardinal by Pope Francis.
Cardinal Nzapalainga’s book, “Je suis venu vous apporter la Paix,” is published in French by Médiaspaul.