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A cry of pain from Berberati

· A woman religious speaks of her Central African Republic ·

Dear friends, my days have truly become strange and in the evening I’m a wreck.Two days ago I decided to lock myself at home and to have the lie told that I am not well, and I will have someone insist that I am dead!

The situation is really serious here in Berberati, at the heart of the Central African Republic, a country in which wealth consisting of diamonds, gold and fine wood constitutes an enormous fortune for foreign businessmen and a few small groups of rich Africans, but it leaves the majority of the population in dire poverty. The situation is serious and what makes me even angrier is that the authorities loudly proclaim that there are no problems in Berberati such as exist in Bangui and in the country’s other towns and villages. On behalf of our NGO Kizito – a fraternity that came into being in 2002 and is now recognized as an NGO with social goals that takes in children, many of whom are accused of being sorcerers or witches – I and the Kizito fathers do all we can to write and declare the truth of the facts.

Homicides, tortures, rapes – even of minors – and forced marriages are taking place and, further, the sacking of churches, offices, homes and of the few businesses that existed. Even our cultural centre which – among other things – enables us to have an internet connection and contact with the world was heavily targeted.

The wounded are numerous, a great many young people have been permanently disabled, there are amputations of legs or arms; a vast number of traumatized children who fled to the forest for 10 days came back with serious forms of malaria and anaemia. These are the reasons why April last year we recorded a percentage of five or six children who died every day. The school year (2013-2014) was non-existent.

Because of this situation of insecurity and unpredictability the Ekobank was closed for months, creating terrible hardship among the people. We at the NGO Kizito, in collaboration with the league of human rights organized a peaceful march to ask for the reopening of the bank. Unfortunately few people took part because they were frightened, despite the police escort. However a memorandum was sent to Bangui and a month later the bank reopened. I went to Bangui twice to denounce the events and ask for help.

Following the outbursts of violence and confrontations between Muslims and Christians that have been going on for months, Berberati is empty, only we sisters and the NGO Kizito remain to attend to the dead and the injured.

After 12 years here in Berberati – where I arrived, summoned by the bishop to work with local youth (among other things, for example, we take in children destined to go to prison, teaching them and giving them a family; we have set up the Centre culturel catholique, a diocesan structure) – I permitted myself to point something out, but what I said was ignored.

In the face of the continuous violence of these past months we have tried to work with young people, welcoming them in a centre for agricultural and pastoral formation located eight kilometres from Berberati. However now that time has passed we can no longer manage to keep this enterprise going. We do not know what to do to avoid disappointing these young people who have perpetrated and suffered so much violence, and want from the bottom of their hearts to rebuild their lives.

The financial situation is now reduced to survival. Even those families that came from far away to seek refuge in Berberati have nothing to live on. Neither meat or milk nor petrol or fuel is to be found. There are no longer any means of transport. The Ecobank has closed again.

Doctors without Borders have arrived here and they look after only part of the hospital. The NGO Première Urgence has distributed a little rice and peanuts but it is not the solution.

Being obliged to face and to continue to bear this situation of enormous tension since December 2012, and especially since March 2013, I do not conceal from you the fact that I’m rather tired. For this reason I ask you to forgive me for not describing the facts more efficiently. Sharing the suffering of the people here without being able to do more or better is very wearing, even though at the bottom of my heart I am tranquil. My sisters and I (we are two Italians and three Central Africans) are trying to do our best. The Kizito family – that belongs to the NGO of that name – is bravely continuing to witness to love and acceptance.

Death has been to visit us, we have lost so many dear people, we still have in our eyes images and situations that make us scream. But we don’t despair: Maboko na maboko, an expression in the local language that means “hand in hand and heart close to heart, everything passes, love alone remains.

I embrace you, Sr Elvira

Born at Termoli in 1949, at the age of 21 Elvira Tutolo entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of St Joan Antida Thouret. After studies in pedagogy, theology and nursing, Sr Elvira taught for a time. For eight years, beginning in 1990, she was in Chad on the border with the Sahara Desert as pastoral coordinator for the formation of catechists and animators of Christian Base Communities (CEB). After two years in Cameroon, since early September 2001 she has been in Berberati. “ I've been a sister for more than 20 years, that I’m a sister is the fault of the sea and sports”, she told us. “As a little girl, I realized that the sea and sports were directing me to take this path. The sea by the beach of Sant’Antonio and the line of the horizon revealed to me a need for the infinite, whereas sports, of which I did a lot at school, suggested to me that I test myself and fight. Then came the decision, a sort of crossroads that opened before me. I decided to embrace the faith for the whole of my life and this created a rift with my family that took time to heal. I was 21 years old”.

Elvira Tutolo

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