A MISSION ON A POWDER KEG
‘Our life is endangered, but we do not want to go away from here. We are scared, but we are sure that here we have a mission to fulfill. It depends on you whether our efforts will not be in vain. Therefore I ask you again with all my heart: WAKE UP!!!’
A dramatic post placed on the blog of Gabriela Durczyk, a secular missionary from Tarnów diocese on 6 April, touched many Poles, drawing attention to what has been happening in the Central African Republic for a few months, about whose existence many of us have not had any idea.
– We are a group of five Poles, who are in a foreign country, where rebels have been raging for a few months. Papa – the parish priest of the local parish church, Ela – the director of a hospital for the Pygmies, Majka – a laboratory worker, Zuzia – a pharmacist and a political scientist and me – a nurse.
They do not save anybody
Persecutions, tortures, 500 thousand exiles, hunger, death and lack of any state administration, police, thefts, intimidation – this has been everyday life for a few months in this African country, caused by rebels with a quiet permission of the world. From December 2012, the members of the Muslim group Seleka have been robbing indigenous population, but also in the international organizations and centers of Catholic missions. Among the others, believers, who had participated in the Eucharist on 24 March this years in the capital city of the country – Bangua fell victims to them. Rebels do not save anybody or anything, except for mosques and Muslim traders, who buy the stolen property from them.
A country at the end of the world
In the Republic of Central Africa, it is often said that it is a country without the state. The area twice bigger than Poland is inhabited by nearly 4 million people. The Central African Republic belongs to the poorest countries, without the access to the sea, without industry, only with a kind of capital of natural resources. The income of particular inhabitants is based on little agriculture and a good trade. Developmental indications show this country at the end of the countries of the world. The first ten countries, in which it is included, is only a list of the so-called unsuccessful countries of our globe.
Moreover, the unstable political situation in the Republic of Central Africa is not to be envied. In 2003, after three years of fights and rebellions, Francois Bozize comes to power. Soon after that military organizations act against this new leader. In the years 2004-07, in the Republic of Central Africa, there was a civil war, absorbing hundreds of civilian victims. Tens of thousands people are escaping from their residences.
When the country seems to be returning to its relative stability after 5 years of peace, the horror starts again. On 10 December 2012, rebels from the group Seleka (covenant) re-start a rebellion aiming at overthrowing the president Bozize, unsuccessfully ruling the country. During a few weeks of fights, Seleka conquers a several dozen of towns and is going towards the capital city. As a result of mediations undertook by the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), on 11 January this year, an agreement in Libreville is signed, bringing a short truce. On 22 March, however, rebels accuse Bozize of breaching decisions in Libreville and re-start a conquer into the capital city, Bangua.
Despite the military support given by the Chadian government, the president Francois Bozize is not able to stop the actions of rebels. He asks the international community for help in saving the country which he has completely ruined through his government, and after that he escapes to the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. On 24 March 200 fighters of Seleka besiege the presidential palace in Bangua, and the leader of rebels Michel Djotodia announces himself the president. As a new leader, he dissolves the parliament and the government, suspends the constitution and also introduces curfew which does not prevent his militia from unpunished continued looting. The rebels take on the role of victims of the unsuccessful government of the president Bozize. In this way they consider themselves saviours who deserve a respect. On 7 April rebels start firing to unarmed civil people, who, barefoot, in order to stress their defencelessness, went out into streets in a march of protest. They are killing eight people, and hurting many people. Later they are excusing themselves that they had to react, because this opposition was to express the lack of respect towards Seleka – the saviour of the nation.
Polish mission in Bagandou
In the very centre of the country overwhelmed by the rebel fights, there are 30 Polish missionaries – among the others, the Capuchins from Cracow Province working in Ngaoundaye, Bouat, Ndim and Bocaranga, the Franciscans working in Obo, Rafai and Bimbo,and missionaries working under the patronage of Tarnów diocese (9 priests, 1 secular missionary woman and 5 secular volunteers). Elżbieta Wryk, Marianna Tokarczuk, Izabela Cywa and Gabriela Durczyk coming from this diocese and being under the leadership of Fr. Mieczysław Pająk – a parish priest of the church of St. Peter – are working in the mission in Bagandou, and taking care of about 8 thousand African people, including the sub-tribe of Pygmies – Aka. Their activity takes place in 15 villages where there are 12 chapels.
Bahandou has a population of 4.5 thousand people and is village situated in the south of the country and hidden in a tropical jungle distanced by 160 km from the capital city, Bangua. Here, since the year 2000, there has been a catholic mission run by priests from Tarnów. The inhabitants of the village are traditional African people and the Pygmies, who became the main worry of the missionaries. And the hospital in Bagandou started functioning in 2004, just in order to help them. At present the hospital has 50 beds, an operating theatre, obstetric room, laboratory, chemist’s. – Every year in the walk-in centre of hospital, 4.5 thousand people are examined, among whom 2 thousand stay in hospital. Among 55 per cent of hospitalised patients there are children aged till 5. Every year about 800 Pygmies use our help, to whom we give treatment for the symbolic 60 pennies, that is, 100 local franks CFA. These are very poor people of forest, who, without our help, would be doomed only to ‘village-like’ treatment with the usage of leaves and spells of witches – ElżbietaWryk, the director of hospital for Pygmies, informs the ‘Sunday’. Among illnesses, malaria prevails here, which causes anemia among young children. In order to rescue them, the so-called direct blood transfusions are carried out – blood is taken from somebody from a family and if the blood group is not compatible or is infected with virus HIV, then volunteers are sought. – Sometimes our nurses or somebody of us are volunteers – adds Mrs Elżbieta. Another serious problem among the youngest patients is protein malnutrition, which causes much devastation in organisms of young children. Last year 10 per cent of children among the general number of hospitalised children were stricken by high malnutrition.
Another important sector of the missionaries’ work are village primary school. On the area of the very Bagandou 3 primary schools are functioning, including one public school, 8 schools are functioning in the neighbouring villages. Only 2 of them have masonry buildings, the rest of them are simple hangars covered with leaves.
In the very centre of the rebellion
It is difficult to run a missionary activity, when every hour is not certain. How will the hospital function if there is a shortage of medications in it? What will happen with the ill, if the institution falls prey to rebels? How to help others, how to protect parishioners when one falls into panic when hears about approaching rebels? These questions are asked by Polish missionaries to themselves every day, who started working in the extreme conditions (especially Polish Franciscans experienced problems in the east of the country, whose all cars were stolen). However, despite the danger, despite a suggestion of evacuation, they do not want to leave their institutions, they do not want to leave their charges. The blog of Gabriela Durczyk is not only an excellent source of news about what is happening in the Republic of the Central Africa, overwhelmed by the rebellion, but also a diary full of emotions:
3 April. I renew the activity on the blog. I renew it because I cannot look at what is happening. (…) I do not want to inform about military actions, but note the fact that innocent people must escape to a jungle, that they leave their homes, that they are intimidated and live in a continuous stress… Let the last Wednesday be the best example. The day like every day, if one can call a moment so, when phones ring every 10 minutes, that there is a rumour that rebels are moving towards us, that they are robbing more mission stations.
4 April. (…). The public hospital in Mbaiiki, in a big city near us, was completely robbed. First some medications were stolen, and others were deliberately destroyed, then everything which was left, was stolen. The hospital got desolated, the prefecture was desolated, nothing is functioning as it should be. All clerks and other people on high posts, hid where they could. Police and military police do not exist anymore. No hospital in the capital city has a right to exist…All international organizations (including the agencies of the UNO) were robbed, their buildings devastated. Mission stations, companies, the only big factory in the country, ordinary citizens – everybody was seriously stricken by the events in the country. They did not even leave alone the nuns of Mother Theresa of Calcutta.
Good and bad Muslims
4 April. (…) They arrived. Rebels arrived! They were sitting in the police station and debating. However, I thought that it will go like clockwork, that they were only checking what was happening in our village. However, after a while, the Mayor came in order to inform that Seleka had received a message that we were hiding four governmental cars at the mission station! What a paranoia!
In order to alleviate and maybe solve somehow this situation, Papa went to them. He went to 20 armed rebels. He spent 15 minutes with them, and we were waiting in a porch, not knowing what would be next. After all, everything might have happened….Luckily, he returned safe and sound.
6 April. Today we got to know a few new facts….As it turned out, that apart from the mayor and the Commissioner, also a group of the local Muslims took part in the negotiations with Seleka, who not only hosted soldiers, by killing a ram for them and giving a lavish feast, but they also saved our cars, saying that they were needed in the whole village, because they were used to deliver medications. Little? (…) So, they also paid off the ransom for all of us! They gave them 1 million francs, that is, about 1.5 thousand euro. (…)
Silence before a storm?
9 April. One might think that everything is moving towards a good direction – a few days ago the president Djotodia called all divisions of Seleka to come to the capital city immediately. (…) Seleka behaved obediently and unwelcome guests left NEARLY completely the areas of our village. It is more peaceful in the capital city. A success? Yes, but only allegedly. After all, they are not able to disappear. They were sent 450 km from Bangua, towards Cameroon, where there are big military barracks. The whole pack of them is there. Therefore, especially here, we ask for a prayer for missionaries (also the Polish ones) in advance, who are there, who work in the same city in which all rebellious divisions are at present. Today these are them who need our support the most!
Mrs Gabriela attributes this alleged peace to the policy of Djotoia. ‘If the capital city is peaceful again, the whole public opinion will be glad, also big international organizations will return into their places, as well as humanitarian organizations, and vast sums of money will come with them, for the sake of help to the country. And there will be a lot to steal and destroy again…’ - she writes in her blog. It cannot be denied that it is only silence before a storm.
Cooperation: Przemysław Caban
In the report fragments of the blog of Gabriela Durczyk were used (www.przezywam.blogspot.com).