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News   -  08  ( 01.10.2005 )


The Central African Republic


Damaso Zuazua, ocd

Secretary for the Missions




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”.


      Baoró (1973)


       My next stop was to this parish run by the Order .  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 stations.


      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 again.




       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 Teresa. 




       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.


      Special mission


       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 mission.


      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.  Adios!



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