Peace Prize Awarded to Central African Republic Top Clerics

December 8, 2014 by Open Doors in Africa

The three top religious leaders of the Central African Republic have been awarded a prize for their efforts for peace in the war-torn Central African Republic.

Rev. Nicolas Guérékoyamé-Gbangou, 55, President of the Evangelical Alliance; Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, 53, President of the Islamic Community; and Mgr. Dieudonné Nzapalainga, 46, the Archbishop of Bangui, were among the five recipients distinguished by Search For Common Ground (SFCG) at a November 13 ceremony in Washington, D.C..

In the midst of their country’s two years of violence, the three clerics formed a joint platform to promote peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims. Their message is that the primary cause of violence in CAR is not religious conflict; instead, the root of the violence lies in the struggle for political power.

”For many years,” Nzapalainga said in his acceptance speech, “Muslims and Christians lived in harmony and in the respect of each other’s beliefs. When politicians wanted to use the religion fibers to divide the people, whether to maintain power or to conquer it, we stood up as if we are a single man to say ‘no’ to this war, and ‘yes’ to peace.”

Imam Layama agreed, saying, ”it is a force to promote peace, justice and equity among men, and a weapon to combat all forms of religious extremism which politicians use to exploit our religions. Let us unite so that justice and peace come together.”

The three clerics travelled throughout CAR visiting areas plagued by violence, to facilitate dialogue among Christian and Muslim community members and hold community meetings to rebuild trust. They also toured European capitals—Rome, Brussels, Paris, London, and Amsterdam—to plead the cause of their country. They met with world leaders like Pope Francois in Vatican and UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, at New York. They laid the diplomatic groundwork for the deployment of UN peacekeepers to CAR in September.

For their efforts, TIME Magazine named them among the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2014, while the French Magazine Le Monde dubbed them “the three saints of Bangui.”

This commitment to the cause of peace does not come without a price. Following the death of his ailing daughter, Guerekoyame said, “Today, my family and all of the other Central Africans still living can understand, through this recognition from Search For Common Ground, that to receive this prize for peace on behalf of a whole country and of a whole generation, difficult actions are sometimes needed.”

In August of 2013, Rev. Guérékoyamé was arrested following comments in a sermon about the government. Despite being a Member of the National Transitional Council (NTC), which granted him immunity, he was put into prison. In response to his friend’s arrest, Nzapalainga presented himself to the prison authorities as an act of solidarity. ”I went to prison and asked for a sleeping mat so that I can stay with Rev Nicolas. Whatever the time it will last—three days, or many months—I was determined to remain in prison with him,” the archbishop told World Watch Monitor. Guerekoyame was released after the intervention of the Minister of the Interior.

The following December, an eruption of violence following the offensive of Anti-balaka militia in Bangui forced Imam Layama to flee his home, and seek refuge at Parish St. Paul.

”When the life of a brother is threatened, we must provide him assistance,” Nzapalainga said. “For more than five months, we welcomed Imam Layama and his family in our midst. We shared meals and discussed how to find solutions to the crisis in CAR.”

He described a meeting he and the Imam arranged at St. Jacques Parish in Bangui, gathering pastors, priests and imams from the region ”to convey the message of reconciliation and peace. But when we arrived,” he went on to say, “we learned that the driver of an imam seemed to be a former Séléka fighter, and suddenly, an angry crowd came to us, wanting to kill him. But we refused to give the man to the crowd, despite the rising tension.” Rescue came with the intervention of African peacekeepers. “We narrowly escaped certain death that day, as stones were thrown from everywhere,” Nzapalainga recalled.

Violence in CAR has claimed the lives of several clerics and the SFCG prize is not the first of its kind to honor the contribution of clerics for peace in CAR. In September, Human Rights Watch honored Rev. Bernard Kinvi, who saved the lives of hundreds of besieged Muslims by sheltering them in the Catholic Church. He received the Alison Des Forges Award, which celebrates the valor of individuals who put their lives on the line to protect the dignity and rights of others.

Rev. Aurelio Gazzera participated in mediation efforts that helped bring stability to Bozoum, in the northwest of the country. In June, he took part in the Oslo Forum, one of the highest-level meetings of peace mediators in Norway. At a panel discussion with the President of the Central African Republic, Catherine Samba-Panza, he reported on his experience with mediation.

Source: World Watch Monitor

Father, we praise You for the acknowledgement of the work of these men on behalf of peace in CAR. We thank You for the clarification that the conflict there is primarily political. Thank You for the testimony of our Christian brothers in CAR to act in compassion towards the Muslims around them. We pray that the light of the gospel will continue to shine through their lives, not just for political peace, but that many Muslim and secular people in their nation might know peace in You through the atoning work of Christ. In the name of Jesus, who is calling into His Church men and women from every tribe and tongue, Amen.

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