“Being a priest is not just about giving blessings. It is much more: it means standing alongside those who have lost everything”. Father Bernard Kinvi tells the story.
We are in 2014, and the then 32-year-old Bernard, a Togolese by birth, has lived in the Central African Republic for six years. He is a Camillian religious and, finds himself in spite of having personally lived through the difficult years of ethnic-religious rivalries in one of the poorest countries in the world, with endless armed clashes and violence between militias.
In particular, those were the years in which the Islamist Seleka rebels, often supported by the local Muslim population (the Balaka), were hunting down Christians; in turn, depending on the progress of the clashes on the ground, the Seleka were hunted by other militias who did not spare Muslim civilians accused of complicity with the rebels.
In this context, in which hatred and the thirst for revenge prevailed over all else, Father Kinvi responded to the violence by opening the doors of the parish and the hospital he runs to the Muslims of his city, Bossemptele (North West of the country).
The Anti-Balaka then began to threaten him, accusing him of treason. «As a priest – and this was Father Bernard’s usual reply – I cannot approve the murder of any person. We are all human beings: religion doesn’t matter. Whoever comes here and is hurt, I treat him. I don’t care who they are, what religion they belong to, or what they have done. They are human beings and I take care of them.”
Starting from this assumption, which is not so obvious in a country struggling for years with revenge and reprisals, Father Kinvi went so far as to protect up to 1,500 Muslims, many of whom were forced to flee to Cameroon.
In some cases, he “converted” the anti-balaka themselves, struck by his behaviour. As he himself said: «At first, the Anti-Balaka killed all the Muslims. When I walked down the street, they would come and tell me, “We do our job, Father, and you do yours. We kill them and you bury them.”
But then people began to protect them and stopped killing them. They brought many Muslims to me to defend them and many Christians hid them in their homes, risking their lives. After all, being a priest doesn’t just mean giving blessings. It is much more: it means standing alongside those who have lost everything”