The Central African Republic ,
Damaso Zuazua, ocd Secretary for the Missions
The geographical location of this country gives it its
name: Central African Republic (RCA). It is
situated just north of the equator. Unlike most of
the other countries it has no outlet to the sea or
rather ocean, being surrounded by the two Congo’s, the
Cameroon, Chad and Sudan. It has a surface area of
623,000 square kilometers, making it slightly larger
than France: 1,350 kms long and 600 kms wide. It has a
population of 3 million, with 5 people per square
kilometer; in some areas it is desolate. 45% of
the people do not live beyond 15 years of age.
Here you will also find pigmies.
The colonial invasion had at least the good effect of
ending slavery. The common language is called sango.
Much of central Africa has been abandoned when the
people left to search for food or work in the cities
built next to rivers or ports. In the RCA there is
only one doctor per 17,000 inhabitants.
Christianity first began in today’s capital, Bangui, on
the banks of the Oubangui river.
The first missionaries arrived in 1894 with Mgr.
Augouard. A second mission was established the following
year in Djoukou. Today the number of
roman catholics is more than
five hundred thousand, spread over eight dioceses; they
make up a fifth of the overall population. The first
Religious to come to this land was Br. Clave Zougoula,
sometime after his profession in 1902; he had been
rescued from slavery. The first priests were ordained in
1920. The first Mission focused on the task of freeing
slaves and building schools.
In the land of Carmel
My visit began in the Bouar mission, located near the
border with the Cameroon. The mission is the undertaking
of the Ligurian Province in Italy. It began in 1971, the
fourth of its kind in Africa, following those of the
Congo (1958), Malawi (1963), Goma-Congo (1966).
Bouar is 500 kms from the capital and connected to it by
a road that is partly tarmaced partly dirt road; it is a
long and tiring journey at anytime but especially after
the rains. Bouar became a diocese in 1978.
Saint Elie (1994)
My next stop was to our house in the high altitude
region of St. Elie. Our property is cut off from
the town. Its architecture is classically Carmelite in
every way, which is quite unique in Africa: with an
internal cloister, arches, a
contemplative veranda over the green savannah. It is the
place where our local Carmelites are formed in the
novitiate and student house. Their regular life
follows the ringing of the bell. Inside the large
property there are several sports’ fields. The
Ligurian Province has, as only it could, reversed much
of the way of life here. It has taken up the great
challenge to fulfill its project in an organized and
efficient way by putting together the two formation
communities. Here they work hard with their hands.
You can see how the Italians have trained the young
people who, coming from a different culture, would not
have expected this. The house is kept clean and the
garden is full of fruit and vegetables.
The students study at an inter-congregational centre at
the other side of the town. The library is small
but sufficiently well stocked. The lovely chapel
was recently constructed. There is a way of the
cross in the garden. The fact that there is not
electricity does not seem to be a problem. There
is lighting for a few hours each evening thanks to a
generator, after which they use oil lamps. In
spite of these shortcomings life goes on a usual.
Here in the Church dedicated to our Lady of Mt. Carmel I
assisted in the receiving of the habit of four
postulants and the simple profession of three novices.
Four students from Rwanda-Burundi plus a formator will
be arriving soon to complete their studies.
La Yolé (1986)
My next stop took me to this seminary where our students
study. I have never seen anything like this building.
I cannot believe that there was much consultation, or
forethought before it was built. There seems to be no
planning, little if any evaluation.
There are presently 85 junior seminarians, from 10 to 20
years of age. There is a sense of family
throughout. The combining of a junior and senior
seminary appears to work well. It is, also, a
resource for formation training. The older
seminarians, actually novices or postulants, wear a
special brown habit for the Office. They are guided in
ways of Teresian prayer with 30 minutes prayer in the
morning and 30 minutes in the evening. Every day
they celebrate morning and evening prayer, midday and
night prayer. The Office is sometimes celebrated
by separating the major and minor seminarians between
the Church and the crypt. Both Church and crypt are
resplendent with African art, the like of which I have
never seen in any of our other Churches in Africa: the
altar, tabernacle, baptismal font, several paintings are
truly works of art.
Besides the five Carmelites who form the formation
community there are the five guardian angels of this
flock of young vocations. These angels are from an
Indian Carmelite Congregation “Mother of Carmel” (CMC),
from Malabar. They are responsible for teaching, the
infirmary and the college’s administration. There is
also an Italian volunteer who teaches art.
The seminary is also the place of learning for the
Capuchin Franciscans and the diocesan seminarians.
Our administration has responsibility for the 25
lecturers and 250 pupils in all. Here we can see
clearly the bold “waste of money” of the Ligurian
Province. There is a “waste” in finances, energy,
personnel, hope and organization. But the people
in charge are hardworking and
seem to regenerate this “waste” with their energy and
enthusiasm. They obviously believe in what they are
doing. They are assured by the results of their work:
over the past 10 years they have formed these young
people and freed so many from environmental and
ancestral hang-ups to a new Carmelite way of life.
For those who do not persevere they are left with an
excellent education for life.
How much has been invested in La Yolé? How much
work has gone into it? So much effort would demand
results. The minor seminary of the size of La Yolé is
the most surprising phenomenon anywhere in our
missionary world, but I am questioning its existence.
Yes the Ligurian Province is generous, enthusiastic and
has trust in its “jewel in the crown” but what it is
doing is risky. From the point of view of
vocations we should all adhere to the words of Peter
before Jesus” “I will caste out the nets in your name”.
My next stop was to this parish run by the
A busy and thriving centre of
Christianity. Here they teach people trades
and crafts, such as working with motors or carpentry,
chemistry. There is a junior and senior school, a centre
for young mothers. I will never forget this
centre, which is so necessary in Africa.
A strong support for the parish is given by the
Carmelite Sisters of St. Teresa. Everyone is
committed to evangelization. There is also a
thriving Secular Order group.
I was privileged here to take part in the Sunday
Eucharist. African liturgy always has something
“more”. More celebration, more expressive, more
participation, more enthusiasm…Nothing improvised and
everything done with dignity, religiosity and
understanding: then there is dance and music.
Here, due to its centrality, is the Delegate Provincial
House, the Provincial Delegate being Fr. Robert Nava.
Bozoum, 140 kms from Bouar, was next on my itinerary.
The round about journey took me five hours. It was here
that the first Carmelites came. They inherited a
mission station established in 1929. In 2004 they
celebrated the 75th anniversary of the first
baptism. The people are protected by a statue of
Christ and another of the Blessed Virgin Mary situated
on the highest hills over looking the place. In the same
town there are three more chapels. The town has
spread out over 100 kms with even more chapels, linked
to medical centers and schools and agricultural
cooperatives. They regularly visit 14 mission
The four missionaries are engaged in various
enterprises, in carpentry, in establishing a centre for
youth, a dispensary, and schools. The work of
evangelization has attracted a group of the Secular
Order. Here, in Bozoum, they first established a
junior seminary for Carmelite vocations in 1983, before
it was transferred to La Yolé.
During the civil was of 2003 Bozoum was in the centre of
the violence. The missionaries were obliged, with
great reluctance, to leave. When they returned they
found the place desolate and vandalized. But
undaunted and with typical energy they began to restore
order and rebuild. Today everything is flourishing
Next stop was Bosentelé. It is on the crossroads
between Chad and the Cameroon. St. Therese’s parish is
dependent upon the Baorò community, at a distance of 92
kms. Fr. Nicholas Ellena has been here from the
beginning, now over 80, supported by Fr. Charles Cencio.
The Carmelite Sisters of St. Teresa do wonderful work
around the parish. During the recent civil war rebels
robbed one of these sisters, Teresa, but soon afterwards
they were involved in an accident. So who did they turn
to heal their wounds? Yes, Sr
This my final stop. It is the capital. It is always
important to have a place in the capital, because in
these places everything is centered. Here we do not have
a residence, just a project of a residence to support
the work and life of the diocese of Bouar. But in
Bangui, on a hilltop, there are 110 hectares of land
belonging to us. This is no exaggeration. It is
true. For now there are some fruit trees and a
plantation of olive groves, and the beginnings of a
building. What will it be? All is possible,
but above all it should be a base. So much land
offers so much, including the chance to build a
Carmelite convent for our nuns.
Bouar is a mission with its own characteristics.
There is nothing strange with foreign missionaries and
native religious living together. But the
agreement with the Malabar Province (India) and with the
General Delegation of the Congo has
produced good collaboration with two Fathers
from Malabar and two from the Congo. I doubt if
other missions of the Order can claim such enterprise,
with young Carmelite religious from Italy and the Czech
Republic fulfilling here a period of their formation,
together with lay volunteers from different countries,
groups of friends and benefactors who help with the
missionary activity. They are signs of the
initiative, organization and the dynamism of this
Commitment, dedication, impulsive,
hope, inversion and immersion. Everyone
wishes them well with the never to be forgotten
principle: “the waste of money”. Are there concrete
results? Carmel here in central Africa has three
native priests, two solemnly professed brothers and
seven simply professed, four novices and 85 aspirants.
At the end of my visit, as I flew home, I was struck by
the thought that God loves Africa and its people very
much. We should work hard for its development.