Cardinal Dieudonné Nzapalainga, Pastor Nicolas Guérékoyame-Gbangou & Imam Omar Kobine Layama

Clerics working to overcome religious and civil strife

Three religious leaders—a Christian pastor, a Catholic bishop and a Muslim imam—created the Plateforme des Confessions Religieuses de Centrafrique in an effort to contain and then reconcile the deeply divisive religious and civil forces tearing at their country, the Central African Republic.These three extraordinary leaders were simply unwilling to let their country and communities be consumed by what they knew to be irrational and fundamentally misguided religious fervor. Together they stand against the forces of evil who continue to try to turn the Central African Republic into another casualty of the 21st century religious wars.The jury celebrates their leadership that is collective, that is courageous and unyielding, and that is based on the simple idea that what we have in common is far greater than what separates us.

A Tällberg conversation, September 2018

Cardinal Dieudonné Nzapalainga
Our work together started with the crisis in the Central African Republic in 2013. We decided we had to unify in order to get the people together and in order to support the weakest ones. We all wanted the believers to overcome their egos in order to look on the good, the greater good.In the beginning, we didn’t get together on a common basis in order to discuss our different point of views. But then at one point, we decided they have to get to know each other better.If you want to work with someone, it’s very important to know the other person. We got together in order to know each other even better, in order to appreciate each other… and to respect each other. Our aim was to create a common voice and a common heart.

. . .

So we are people of religion and we are people of speech. Our strengths, we find it within the Bible and within the Quran. We invite each and every one to dialogue, to get into a dialogue, and to express what we have in common and what divides us. We invite all the Central African population in order to analyze what is it, what makes our living together difficult. We invite them in order to search together for solutions in order to get out of the crisis. If we go to those with weapons, we tell them that weapons have never been a solution for problems. We ask them to write down what creates their anger, so that we can present it to those who are concerned.

. . .

Our mission and our responsibility is also to defend the population, those who are oppressed and those who are victims of the people with weapons.

. . .

Today, a lot of people are talking about fundamentalism. We want to get out of this and create gathering together, or getting together. Togetherness.

Imam Omar Kobine Layama
As the leader of the Islamic community, what got me committed and what motivated me for this work, was that the support of the Cardinal during the crisis reminded me of the beginning of the Islam. When the Christians of Ethiopia opened their doors for the Prophet and his fellow Muslims who were fleeing from Medina. Indeed, there is a verse in the Koran that says the closest people of the Muslims are those who call themselves Christians. That means we are close together one to the other in order to live unity, peace, brotherhood.

. . .

Sometimes when you have war in a country, you have it at one place and sometimes this war is transforming itself to another place and moving to another place. Our country has a lot of natural resources. Amongst the members of rebellion, there are a lot of leaders, rebel leaders who came from other countries. And there are fighters from other countries, mercenaries who come with an economic interest into the country.This is a problem because they have ears, but they are not able to listen.

. . .

This prize gives us some more room to breathe in order to do our work together for the Central African Republic and its population. It encourages also the system and the international support for common work or working together of different religious leaders.

Pastor Nicolas Guérékoyame-Gbangou
I decide to pray and, as I was praying I could hear a voice telling me that I have to get close to all the religious leaders, that I need to speak to them…I went out and spoke to the Imams, the evangelists, the Catholics—all the different religious communities in Central Africa. I did that in Bagui, but as well in the provinces with my two colleagues. We spoke to create a dialogue and to avoid war.

. . .

It’s a calling, really. I believe it’s a calling from God. Whenever there are challenges, I remember all the examples of very resilient stories of people in the Bible who, despite the challenges, continued for the good in the world. In my different tours, it happened that sometimes I left behind loved ones. My daughter died while I was touring, for example, but it didn’t stop me.

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PCRC's Background

The Interfaith Peace Platform

The Rev. Nicolas Guérékoyame-Gbangou
Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga
Imam Omar Kabine Layama

If one belief unites the three clerics behind the Interfaith Peace Platform, it is that religion is not the cause of the violence that has convulsed the Central African Republic over the past five years.

Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga, who became the youngest cardinal ever when he was elevated by Pope Francis in 2016, is leader of the country’s Catholics. His bond with Imam Omar Kabine Layama, president of the Islamic community, was forged after the capital, Bangui, first descended into chaos in 2013, and the Imam, under threat from anti-Muslim forces, sought refuge in the Cardinal’s home.

The two men began travelling together, working to restore peace, and were soon joined in their effort—forming the Interfaith Peace Platform—by the leader of the CAR’s Evangelicals, the Rev. Nicolas Guérékoyame-Gbangou. Dubbed “the three saints of Bangui,” they have pushed for U.N. peacekeeping troops, and for grassroots dialogue among the citizens of the CAR. Instead of religion being manipulated as a source of strife, the Interfaith Peace Platform is making it a tool for peace: a way to identify mutual values that warring parties can live by.

Despite a recent resurgent of violence earlier this year, which they blame on foreign mercenaries, the clerics are pushing to try to rebuild the C.A.R.’s institutions and its infrastructure. “Our country is full of wealth in the basement,” says the Imam. “And there are among the armed groups a lot of highwaymen, many mercenaries who have infiltrated just to illegally pass these riches.” Communications is a major priority, he says, but they are still looking for funding for a radio station: “The Platform wants to have a voice, a radio, which can be heard all over the territory.”

When the trio launched their initiative, they created a chart with all the rules of how they would function. Responsibilities are shared—the permanent secretariat is handled by the Catholics, coordination of the programs by the Evangelicals, and finance by the Islamic community—and they strive for the kind of transparency that is essential to trust.

“When we started the Platform, we were three: Pastor, Imam, and me, and we met without much organization,” the Cardinal says. “Now we have disciples joining us, but it’s not guaranteed they’re all going in the right direction. We must constantly remind them that we are together to move towards a common vision.” They need to be in communication with each other, too. “If there is somebody from the Muslim community coming up to me, I would inform the Imam to make sure it doesn’t look like a conspiracy,” Pastor Nicolas says.

They treat each other with the equality and respect they seek to establish among citizens of the C.A.R. In a recent interview with the Tallberg Foundation, the Imam and the Cardinal expressed concern that the foundation also hear from their Evangelical partner, who was out of the country at the time. Similarly, when support is offered from one faith, it is used to benefit all. When a church in Switzerland asked Pastor Nicolas what they could do for the Christian community in Bangui, he told them, “It’s not just about the Christians, there are other people who are suffering in Central Africa. If you have the finances, let’s go and build houses. There are people who lost their houses.” About 50 houses were ultimately built, half of them for Muslims.

Like many great leaders before them, they realize that they won’t see the end of the mission. As Pastor Nicolas says, “I will continue as much as I can and then I will leave it to others to continue… It’s not the work of one generation. It will take several, maybe.”

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CAR’s clerics warn against attempts to divide Christians and Muslims

Making peace reality

The impact of the Interfaith Peace Platform on the peace process in the Central African Republic. This paper that provides an overview of the work of the clerics and seeks to identify key factors for their success.

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