A church massacre has pushed a troubled country closer to the brink

The bad old days have returned to Bangui. The capital of the Central African Republic was, until recently, a place of relative safety in a country largely controlled by armed gangs. Pope Francis made a two-day visit there, celebrating Mass and visiting a Muslim area known as PK5.

That was in late 2015. At the time there was a sense of hope. Young Muslims, former members of the Seleka militia, joined the papal Mass wearing T-shirts with Francis’s face on them, chanting: “It’s over” (meaning the conflict had ended). A few months later, a president was elected, and Cardinal Dieudonné Nzapalainga hailed a “wind of change” blowing through the nation.

Now, the PK5 neighbourhood is once again a place of violent conflict. On May 1 a gang from the area threw grenades and sprayed gunfire at Mass-goers at the city’s Our Lady of Fatima Church, killing at least 19 people, including a priest. In the reprisals that followed, two more were killed and a mosque burned down.

Many fear more deaths are to come. Kessy Ekomo-Soignet, a youth worker, told the New York Times that calls for revenge were circulating on Facebook.

For the people of Bangui, this is familiar territory. A coup by the mainly Muslim Seleka in 2013 led to widespread atrocities. This escalated into a civil war after various armed groups, largely Christian and animist, began carrying out revenge attacks. Muslims fled Bangui, and the PK5 neighbourhood became a ghost town. That war ended in 2014 after the intervention of French and later UN peacekeepers. But the militias were never disarmed and the government controlled little outside Bangui.

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection