The Protection of the Church

The Protection of the Church

[Slate]

In this photo taken on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, Muslim men, left, seeking refuge in a Catholic church, look on as a Catholic church service takes place in Carnot a town 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the Cameroonian border, in, Central African Republic. The Christian militiamen knew hundreds of Muslims were hiding at the Catholic church and came with their ultimatum: Evict the families to face certain death or else the entire place would be burned to the ground.  (AP Photo/Krista Larson)
In this photo taken on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, Muslim men, left, seeking refuge in a Catholic church, look on as a Catholic church service takes place in Carnot a town 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the Cameroonian border, in, Central African Republic. (AP Photo/Krista Larson)

An intensely moving AP story from Carnot, a city in the Central African Republic:

The Christian militiamen know hundreds of Muslims are hiding here on the grounds of the Catholic church … The priests here in Carnot have given away all their money to try and keep the anti-Balaka [Christian militia] at bay. There are no aid groups here apart from a clinic operated by Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders. The Catholic church, though, is pledging to continue its work here no matter what the personal risk. “For us they are not Muslims or Christians. They are people—people in danger,” says the Rev. Dieu-Seni Bikowo.

This is what happens in many parts of the world. Even in the midst of religious war, religious institutions provide the moral strength to contain the violence. Faith in transcendent values counters sectarian hatred.

The struggle goes on within each religion:

Already the fighters known as the anti-Balaka have brought 40 liters (10 gallons) of gasoline and threatened to burn the church to the ground. Even the Rev. Justin Nary, who takes in more Muslims by the day, knows he too is a marked man in the eyes of anti-Balaka. “Walking through town I’ve had guns pointed in my face four times,” he says. “They call my phone and say they’ll kill me once the peacekeepers are gone.”

The Rev. Bikowo rejects these fighters as representatives of his faith: “The anti-Balaka are not Christians.”