‘A synodal Church must also walk with Protestants and Muslims’

Cardinal Dieudonné Nzapalainga knows the civil unrest and violent conflict first hand. His native Central African Republic (CAR) has been experiencing an ongoing civil war of various levels of intensity for nearly a decade.

Dec 17, 2021

Dieudonné Cardinal Nzapalainga, Archbishop of Bangui, CAR, during the Closing Mass of the Annual Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Ngoukomba, Saturday, December 7, 2019. (aciafrica.org

By Lucie Sarr
Cardinal Dieudonné Nzapalainga knows the civil unrest and violent conflict first hand. His native Central African Republic (CAR) has been experiencing an ongoing civil war of various levels of intensity for nearly a decade.

The 54-year-old archbishop of Bangui, who is also the youngest cardinal in the world, knows that it is vital for Catholics to cultivate friendly relations with Muslims (a minority in CAR) and Protestants (more than twice as many as Catholics) for the good of the country.

This dynamic of dialogue with other believers is also part of how he sees synodality developing within the Church in the Central African Republic.

The cardinal spoke with La Croix’s Lucie Sarr recently while participating in the 15th pilgrimage to Ngoukomba, a Marian shrine some 24 kilometres from Bangui.

La Croix Africa: What makes this 15th pilgrimage to Ngoukomba special?
A pilgrimage is always an expression of our faith. We need to meet the Lord, and the Lord always passes through people and places to speak to us. On the feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Mary was chosen and set apart to give birth to the Saviour. We, Christians of the archdiocese of Bangui, have retained this date as a great day, and the place where we meet is Ngoukomba.

On December 8, 2008, pilgrims who came to celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Mary at the shrine of Our Lady of Ngoukomba claimed to have seen a white cross in the sky during Mass. This year, for the 15th anniversary, one of the faithful offered us a cross. We saw it as a sign. We are therefore going to do a catechesis on the Cross during this year’s pilgrimage. Moreover, this year, through the channel of the Virgin Mary, we have pilgrims from other countries, Cameroon and Congo Brazzaville, to receive the blessing of the Lord.

But the greatest characteristic of this year is that the Holy Father gives us a theme, synodality: communion, participation and mission. So far, we have taken the time, we pastoral agents, to address the subject and to broaden the conversation with our Protestant and Muslim friends.

How did you go about opening up the synodal process to other faiths?
At the launching of the synod in Bangui from October 25 to 31, we involved our Protestant and Muslim neighbours. To do this, we invited them to a meeting beforehand to discuss synodality. We wanted to know how, among our fellow Christians, authority is presented and how those in charge are accompanied. This allowed us to discover another way of doing things, of governing, and also of praying within their churches.

In the same vein, we invited the Muslims. Together with them, we reflected on the place of authority in the Koran and how those in authority are also accompanied in their functions. For our part, we Catholics are “salt and light of the earth” and we want those who engage in politics or other sectors of activity not to hide their faith, but to live it.

During this Ngoukomba pilgrimage, we will have as one of the speakers Pastor Simplice Nicolas Singa Gbazia, president of the Alliance of Evangelicals in the Central African Republic, who will comment on the Gospel according to Saint Luke, chapter 24, verses 18 to 65, the disciples of Emmaus. We will also have Imam Abdoulaye Ouasselegue, who will talk about the place of the Virgin Mary in the Quran. In short, in the synodal process, we walk together with Protestants and Muslims.

Where are you in the consultation process in your diocese?
Concretely, following the diocesan opening of the synod from Oct 25 to 31, we gave out the content of the questionnaires drawn up by the synod secretariat, along with some recommendations. Parishes, fraternities and prayer groups also launched the synod in their groups in order to free the word, to listen to each other and to welcome the other. The diocesan synod team will be responsible for collecting the discussions from all these groups.

Given the socio-political situation, which seems to have stagnated in the Central African Republic for several years, do you have any hope that this will ever change?
A Christian is characterised by hope. So in this Advent season, we keep this flame of hope alive. It pushes us to say that we must take responsibility and overcome our difficulties, the violence, the misunderstandings, the forces of evil. Christ did not remain in the presbytery. Following Him, we go to meet others, to disarm their hearts and heads, and to tell them that the way to rebuild the country is through love. -- LCI (https://international. la-croix.com/)

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