Deacon Greg over at Deacon’s Bench posts about the story of Fr Bernard Kinvi:
A remarkable and inspiring witness, from The Guardian:
The test of faith for which Father Bernard Kinvi had waited half his life arrived one January dawn when a heavily armed man with a necklace of talismans pulled up on a motorbike outside the Roman Catholic mission hospital in Bossemptele.
Despite being a member of the anti-balaka militia that has slaughtered thousands of Muslims in the Central African Republic (CAR), the rider had come on a mission of mercy.
He and his comrades had caught a Muslim man on a patrol the previous night and were planning to kill him. But he was having second thoughts and had come to ask Kinvi to plead for the man’s life. The militiamen, he said, would be too afraid of angering a priest to go through with their threats. Would he come?
Kinvi thought about it. On the one hand, he had never seen the armed visitor before, and knew well what the anti-balaka were capable of; on the other, a man’s life was at stake.
“So I went,” says the 32-year-old priest. “I prayed all the way on the back of the motorbike. I’ve never prayed so hard. I prayed and prayed. When we got to the village, some kids came out shouting, ‘He’s already dead! He’s already dead!’ I was too late. I couldn’t save him.”
Over the following three months, as CAR slipped deeper into chaos and carnage, Kinvi would be afforded ample opportunity to test his faith and his courage, as well as to save hundreds of Muslims.
The former French colony has been trapped in a cycle of sectarian violence, described by one UN official as “massive ethnic-religious cleansing”, since March 2013. That was when the mainly Muslim rebels of the Seleka alliance seized the capital, Bangui, and installed the country’s first Muslim president, Michel Djotodia.
The Seleka terrorised the country’s majority Christian population, killing men, women and children until they were forced from power in January. Their fall was swiftly followed by the rise of the predominantly Christian anti-balaka (anti-machete) militia, whose campaign of vengeance has resulted in the murder of thousands of Muslims and forced hundreds of thousands to seek refuge in neighbouring countries.
When the Seleka fled Bossemptele in January – taking Kinvi’s precious car with them – the anti-balaka swept into the north-western town, slaughtering 80 Muslims.
Kinvi responded to the threat by opening the doors of the mission to terrified Muslims and looking for those hiding in the bush.
Despite daily threats from the anti-balaka, who could not understand why a Catholic was defending Muslims, he continued sheltering them in the mission’s church, hospital and school.
“It wasn’t a decision; it was just something that happened,” he says. “As a priest, I cannot support the killing of a man. We’re all human: religion doesn’t come into it. If anti-balaka come in wounded, I treat them. I don’t care who you are or what you do with your life or what your religion is, you are a human being and I will treat you.”
I recall the beautiful and humbling words of a Catholic sister working among Muslims in Iraq. “We don’t help them because they’re Catholic,” she explained, “but because we are.”