A bishop from the Central African Republic has revealed that he was saved from being beheaded by Islamists in April after one of their number intervened to save him.
Bishop Nestor-Désiré Nongo-Aziagbia from Bossangoa had been kidnapped along with three priests by the Seleka militant group and told he would be executed.
He described the commanding officer who stepped in to stop their execution as being “a good man with a good conscience”.
The Seleka group, which is comprised of members of the Muslim minority but also mercenaries from Chad and Sudan, seized power in the country in March last year, triggering a wave of violence. With the government and army unable to control the country, Seleka has been fighting a largely Christian militia, the Anti-Balaka, although religious leaders of all denomination insist that the conflict is not about faith.
Bishop Nongo-Aziagbia told The Catholic Herald: “I knew the people who kidnapped me, and as they led me to their base they gave me their reasons why I was kidnapped and they told me what they were going to do to me, they were going to kill me. I was with three of my priests and the feeling I had was guilt, not for myself but my priests who were willing to be killed.”
After the men had accused him of chronicling Seleka atrocities and organising the resistance, he was told he would be killed.
“Thanks be to God on the way one of the commanding officers did not agree with that plan. He was the one who stopped our car and watched over me and our priests over the night and made sure we were released the following day,” the bishop said. “What I understood from what he told me was that his elder brother is from the town where I was kidnapped and he called him and told him not to harm us. He had a good conscience and listened to his elder brother.”
The 44-year-old bishop was in London this week to meet Cardinal Vincent Nichols and members of Parliament, and to ask for Britain to help ensure that UN resolutions providing peacekeepers and other security measures are implemented. He also said he hoped the British government would help with development once security was established.
During the worst stages of the fighting last year the bishop’s compound was sheltering more than 45,000 people. Most of them were women and children as the men had fled from militias likely to kill them.
The bishop thanked organisations including Cafod, which helped feed the people in the compound.
“Their number has decreased because we have done a lot of work, and humanitarian organisations helped the displaced people.” He said only 200 people were left in the compound.
But he said the situation was still desperate. “People continue to be killed every day, villages burned down, people are targeted as animals. That is what I condemn and criticise. The state of security in the country is horrible. Actions should be taken to establish a state of security, but Central Africa has never been at the minds of people at the international level. Some timid actions have happened but it’s never mobilised the international community.”
Asked what the faithful in Britain could do, the bishop said: “We really rely upon their prayers, their prayers will sustain us not to lose hope, their prayers will encourage us to keep on fighting for justice. To give heed to hatred and revenge but to stick to the Gospel of love we received from Jesus Christ. Most of our religious infrastructure has been completely destroyed – presbyteries, churches, clinics, schools. We stand in need of financial help to rebuild these structures, and through Cafod, to help people’s capacity to care for themselves. That will be highly appreciated.”
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