By Cardinal Dieudonné Nzapalainga.
Archbishop of Bangui, Central African Republic
Here, in the Central African Republic, religious freedom is not a concept; it is a question of survival. The idea is not whether one is more or less comfortable with the ideological foundations underpinning religious freedom; rather, the issue is how to avoid a bloodbath!
Here, in Bangui, where the forces of destruction are well established, we do not have any choice. Either we succeed in restoring peace or we will disappear. And it is important to note that such a peace can only be founded on a genuine religious peace. In a multi-faith context, this is only possible if religious freedom is understood, accepted and upheld.
Be it in this country, where we have first-hand experience about the issues at stake or in other crisis-stricken parts of the world, it makes no sense to claim that the religious dimension is the one and only cause of the chaos. The reality is complex and modern crises are most often a consequence of multiple inter-connected factors.
Again and again, we see how political, economic and religious factors are all bound up with one another. On the whole, one unfortunately finds that the religious aspects of a crisis are exploited for the sake of political interest or, alternatively, economic gain, and very often, both at the same time.
This instrumentalisation of religion is very effective because religious feelings appeal to what lies deepest within us and undoubtedly religion has the capacity to arouse passionate emotions. Nowadays, the media in the West like to highlight these impulses in order to denigrate religion as a whole, and that is why we must always try to balance things out. This does not imply that religion is never a factor of tension or a serious cause of conflict but genuine discernment is required.
Within the Central African Republic, there was no religious tension before the current conflict erupted and which today has caused our country to descend into a situation of permanent violence. The resulting chaos allows protagonists of violence not only to despoil our nation’s wealth but also to pursue long-term political goals, thereby manipulating religious clashes for personal gain.
Working with other faith leaders, we have spared no effort to resolve – in so far as we can – these religious tensions and conflicts. We are taking risks; we are exposing ourselves to a great deal of criticism. However, this permanent search for inter-religious dialogue and reconciliation is unquestionably the last defence against the ultimate implosion of our country.
With this in mind, this Religious Freedom in the World report produced by Aid to the Church in Need is published at a time when it is sorely needed. This Report is a validation of the importance of what we are doing here in my country. In addition, this Report is a powerful encouragement in the midst of so many sources of frustration and disappointment. Finally, this Report is an invaluable tool demonstrating the vital need to bring about peace.
Religious freedom in its fullness eliminates the risk of religious instrumentalisation. It can also unite us by encouraging us to respect one another’s differences and thereby put a stop to the political and economic manipulation to which we are subjected. A huge thank you to ACN for the service you are rendering to us by publishing this Report.