Central Africa: “Even the LRA rebels respect Pope Francis”

On January 21st, St. Andrew parish in Bakouma, southeast Central African Republic, was attacked by a group of LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) rebels, a formation of Ugandan origin that has been spreading terror in the Central African Republic for years. The LRA received widespread international attention a few years ago, when film maker Jason Russell released a 30-minute documentary about its leader – “Kony 2012”.

But there is some hope. Monsignor Juan José Aguirre Muños, a Comboni Bishop in the affected area of Bangassou, said: “Even the LRA rebels respect Pope Francis. When a seminarian from St. Andrew parish told Ugandan rebels that their car and the computer was a gift from the Pope, they did not touch it”.

“There were a dozen assailants, mostly Ugandans, who spoke in Swahili and English – so much so that they needed an interpreter. They beat the seminarian who was present, and the sisters of a Mexican order”, said the Bishop.

“They were in the parish and in the homes of the nuns for about 2-3 hours, and then they left without ransacking the village. They stole money, food and medicines, destroying doors and furniture”, Monsignor Aguirre elaborated.

In Bakouma there is no military and no MINUSCA (UN Mission in Central Africa) presence; nor are the Ugandan and American Special Forces, sent to the area to hunt down the LRA, present there. “MINUSCA sent a mission to investigate the incident. Even the Americans in Obo sent a patrol helicopter. We, however, had the impression that both the Ugandan and the American military knew that our parish would have been attacked”, said Monsignor Aguirre. He concludes: “in any case, the life of the parish continues and the sisters have remained”.

Formed more than 30 years ago in northern Uganda, the rebel group has extended its activities in the Central African Republic over time, as well as in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Southern Sudan. Although there have not been any more attacks in Uganda, Sheikh Musa Khalil, Vice President of the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative – a local organisation dedicated to reconciliation within the Acholi community – said that “the LRA abducted our children and is still holding them. Their resurgence complicates the return of the children to their families”.