My Take

Bravery of priests in Central African Republic restores your faith in religion

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 February, 2014, 3:59am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 February, 2014, 3:59am

A stand-off in the middle of Africa should now test the conscience of the world. We all know some of the worst killings and massacres were perpetrated in the name of God. So is this story. But this is also a story about the example of Father Justin Nary and his fellow Catholic brothers, in Carnot, the Central African Republic, that explains the enduring value of religion and its transcendent meaning.

For weeks, hundreds of Muslims have been hiding in Father Nary's church while the Christian militia called the anti-Balaka has threatened to kill them unless they leave the country. More arrive by the day as they flee their attackers, and the priests never turn anyone away. The fighters have brought petrol with the intention of burning down the church. All that now stands in the way of the fighters and Muslim refugees are the Catholic priests and about 30 poorly armed Cameroonian peacekeepers.

Father Nary allows the Muslims to turn his church into a temporary mosque to pray because nearby mosques have all been burned down. Despite being Christian like the militiamen, Father Nary knows he is a marked man as he has been repeatedly threatened.

"The priests here in Carnot have given away all their money to try and keep the anti-Balaka at bay," wrote Krista Larson of the Associated Press this week. "There are no aid groups here apart from a clinic operated by Medecins Sans Frontieres. The Catholic church, though, is pledging to continue its work here no matter what the personal risk." From the tone of the report, you know the writer, who has done a superb job covering the conflict from the start, was writing as a human being, not just a journalist.

The current chaos started when a Muslim rebellion overthrew the government last year. The rebels called Seleka have been accused of committing atrocities across the country. They were toppled in January, leading to waves of violent revenge against Muslims.

"For us they are not Muslims or Christians. They are people in danger," said the Rev Dieu-Seni Bikowo.

His sentiment is religion at its best. Thanks to priests like Nary and Bikowo, it is now the world's responsibility to save not only those Muslims hiding in their church but to help stabilise their country.