CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Bishop-elect striving for peace in dialogue with armed groups

Bishop-elect Aurelio Gazzera with bishops and the Carmelite community in Bangui, Central African Republic.
Bishop-elect Aurelio Gazzera with bishops and the Carmelite community in Bangui, Central African Republic.

A priest soon to be ordained bishop has spoken about his efforts to be “a symbol of peace” in his interactions with militia fighting in the civil war that has afflicted the Central African Republic for more than 10 years.

Bishop-elect Aurelio Gazzera told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that he is committed to helping to resolve the conflict by engaging in a dialogue with armed militants.

Father Gazzera – who was appointed Coadjutor Bishop of Bangassou Diocese by Pope Francis – said: “As a priest, as a pastor and as a bishop, everything that hurts or affects my brothers and sisters also hurts me.

“I had the responsibility as a priest – and now I have it even more as a bishop – to look after and protect the people in my care.

“The shepherd not only accompanies his sheep, but also defends them from dangers.”

He added: “I will do everything I can to continue the dialogue with the various rebel groups, and I will talk with those who are giving expression – although of course in the wrong way – to their expectations of the government and the international community.

“I will try to listen to everyone and, with my limited powers, be a symbol of peace.”

The country has been in turmoil since a violent takeover of power by rebels in 2013, leading to the displacement of more than 1.4 million people – nearly a third of the country’s population – according to the UN Refugee Agency.

Father Gazzera, an Italian Carmelite priest, will be ordained coadjutor bishop in Bangui Cathedral on 9th June after 33 years as a missionary in the country.

He said that armed groups are “active in many parts of the diocese”, which covers a large, sparsely populated area with some “schools, orphanages, a catechist school and, above all, a gratifying number of vocations”.

He said: “On the one hand I am anxious, but on the other hand I feel a deep trust in God.

“The strength to be a bishop does not come from myself, but from the Lord. Jesus said: ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you’.

“I know that I am neither worthy nor capable of it, but he knows more about me than I do, and he has more confidence in me than I have in myself.

“And a great multitude of people are praying for me and rejoicing in this new gift in my life.”

He stated that continuing the work of Bishop Juan Aguirre Muños of Bangassou “will be an enormous task” but added: “I am happy to be able to serve in the Diocese of Bangassou and I already love it.”

Father Gazzera explained that “the situation in the Central African Republic remains very difficult and unstable”, with “great insecurity” in many areas.

He said: “Only last December, a village in the Diocese of Bouar was attacked – 28 people were killed, and 900 houses were burnt down.

“Some missions in Bangassou Diocese are also closed because of attacks in recent months.”

He concluded: “The security situation remains precarious in large parts of the country.”


With thanks to Eva-Maria Kolmann