I went to Bouan, a town about 10 miles from Bouar in Central African Republic. A swath of a neighborhood had been burned down. People had been set on fire, as well, burned to death in their very homes. There were bones lying all around — and people’s heads. I had never seen such a scene — not in our country; maybe in footage from Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia, but not here. This was the first time I witnessed such carnage here. That day, we were touched by evil. It was manifested in this desire to kill, to destroy, to cut people into pieces. This barbarism was the work of the devil.
How can a society touched by evil move forward? How can the people find reason to hope — and discover light amidst the darkness?
When a child is sick, the mother is sick as well. She wants her child to get better. I believe that since the Church in the Central African Republic is suffering, the universal Church is suffering as well; the universal Church is giving us support, so that our local Church can stand up again and find healing, eventually to bring about forgiveness as well as reconciliation.
We need men and women who are able to proclaim a message of reconciliation — to help quiet the voices of division, hatred and vengeance. Those voices run counter to the Church’s fundamental message — we have to return to Christ himself. Because Christ, before dying, offered forgiveness: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." To be able to forgive one’s enemy is not possible in strictly human terms — it is an act of faith. It is only with the power of great humility that we can offer this alternative. This, I am convinced, is the Church’s mission, especially and urgently today in the Central African Republic.
The Church needs men and women who can testify that peace is possible now; we need people who are committed firmly to peacemaking — who by their sheer witness bring about peace. That is how we will recognize who are our friends; as it was said about Jesus’ followers: "See how they love one another." Once peace returns to the heart of our community, the Church — witness of love — can help men and women rediscover Christ and help those of other faiths recognize or discover the integrity of our faith.
For many years, the people of the Central African Republic have lived in harmony; we have known brotherhood — this communion among communities. The upheaval and violence has brought division, death, suffering — the destruction of the other. Now, the time has come to open our hearts more widely still, so that God can give us a new dynamism — fill up our hearts, so that we will be able to offer our hand to others, in love, and begin life together anew.
In this moment, in the depth of our troubles, we, as Christians, cannot remain closed in upon ourselves. But only God can purify us and help us extend ourselves to others — yes, in the face of all the suffering.
It will be hard — it will be very difficult — especially those first steps. But we have to make our way toward others again. God is with us in this effort. In making this movement calmly and resolutely, God will transform me so that I can move with a lighter step and make my way to the other, even with a certain joyfulness. This will take time, days and months, but there is no alternative to opening ourselves up. Christ on the cross had his arms open wide — inviting all of humankind. We are invited to draw strength from the heart of Christ.
My role is to encourage all my people to proclaim: "Let us all move toward Christ." It is there that we will find strength; nowhere else. Elsewhere, division and revenge rule the day. But Christ offers us an alternative: He proposes life — not death. This Lent, we can begin to rebuild the Central African Republic!
Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga
Bangui, Central African Republic
Editor’s note: This letter was sent to the Register from the archbishop through Aid to the Church in Need (ChurchinNeed.org).
Pertinent to "Benedict XVI Institute for Liturgy Launched: Project Promotes Beauty of Sacred Music" (Nation, Feb. 23):
It was encouraging to read about the recent initiative of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone in San Francisco to educate church musicians regarding the place of beauty in sacred music in our churches.
In some of our holy places, a piano has replaced the organ, and, from the rendition of the hymns, one would think the music was being performed in a secular hall rather than in church during holy Mass. No doubt, this unfortunate situation occurs due to a dearth of musicians specifically educated these days in the appreciation of Church music (Gregorian chant, Gelineau Psalms and classical hymns like the Adoro Te, Panis Angelicus, etc. — whether or not, they are translated into English).
In any case, the predominance of beauty in the musical accompaniment (rather than piano-pounding "trills and frills") makes for more prayerful singing during Mass.
Theresa (last name withheld by request)
St. Petersburg, Florida
On a trip to Orlando, Fla., recently, I happened upon an older issue of the Register (Dec. 29).
Turning to the editorial page (where one can always get the pulse of a publication), I read the letter "Engagement" from Michael and Lou Ann Kilmer. In summary, the letter asked how our Church and its leaders were aiding and abetting those who would destroy our faith.
How is it that no nationally prominent Catholic politician has yet been excommunicated for advancing and supporting abortion, euthanasia or "gay marriages"? Why has our bishops’ conference instead taken to task those few bishops who have refused holy Communion to Catholics who publicly and continuously violate Church teachings, dogma and Tradition by their open support of abortion, euthanasia or "gay marriage"?
When was the last time a Joe Biden, Barbara Mikulski or Nancy Pelosi was excommunicated vs. the no-name Catholic who has done similar as these?
My response then, as is my response now, is that the Church belongs to us and not the bishops; that the Catholic newspapers published by the various dioceses belong to us and not the bishops; that our publications are not subject to the so-called "fairness doctrine," as these are teaching organs for our faith, not for-profit secular news forms.
Do not misunderstand me. I love my Catholic faith and am committed to learning more about this faith that has remained true to the teachings of Jesus without variation, save for the loose interpretation given by some of our Church leaders, probably for the advancement of their own personal agendas. Many of us love our faith enough to die for it, but the real mark of a Catholic is to love the faith enough to live for it, day by day.
Myakka City, Florida
Follow John Paul’s Lead
At the consistory on "How to Repair the Catholic Family" (Vatican, March 9), we are told great importance was placed on "advancement towards new forms in exploring in depth the mystery of redemption in Christ."
Blessed John Paul II provides a new form for us to do this, by defining two sacraments in the vocation of marriage: the sacrament of creation and the sacrament of redemption (Theology of the Body, page 337).
The sacrament of creation is for procreation, and in this, spouses and their family can remain in the grace of "creation itself." The sacrament of redemption can be for regulation of birth; but, above all, it is a means of obtaining grace for the remission of sins and can repair the Catholic family.
So that, from the espousal of a man and a woman and the grace of creation, there is a "new gracing" or espousal of Christ and his Church and the means of offering sacrifice in reparation for the sins of the world. Blessed John Paul II tells us that, in the Old Testament, "marriage, as a source of fruitfulness and of procreation in regard to descendants, was a religiously privileged state." But, with Christ, there is a "decisive turning point" (TOB, page 266). He spoke of "continence for the kingdom of heaven" (266). And, in the sacrament of redemption, this can be periodic continence for the sake of the family and the salvation of the world.
Pope Paul VI tells us this discipline, "far from harming conjugal love, rather confers on it a higher human value .... and bestows upon family life fruits of serenity and peace" (Humanae Vitae, 21). Like Christ, who "loved the Church and gave himself up for her to make her holy," (Ephesians 5:25-26), in the sacrament of redemption, spouses can give themselves up out of love for one another, for their family and for the Church, and they can make them holy.
This is an eternal banquet of life. "Many are invited, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14).