Jean-Pierre Boubane SJ has just finished a two-year stint as coordinator of an HIV-prevention centre run by the Jesuits on the university campus of Bangui. In an article featured in the newsletter of the centre, he thanks the students for their welcome, commitment and support, and urges them to work for peace in their martyred country.
I arrived in Bangui on 29 August 2012 to work with students at the Centre d’Information, d’Education et d’Ecoute du Centre Catholique Universitaire (CIEE – Information, Education and Listening Centre). The experiencehas been a profound one. Now that I am leaving the capital of Central African Republic, I am aware of feeling at once nostalgia and joy. Nostalgia because the experience in Bangui will remain forever engraved in my memory. Joy because the new experience ahead promises to be interesting.
Openness of the heart and the spirit
During my stay in Bangui, I coordinated student activities linked to the struggle against AIDS at the university. I recognised, not without emotion, how the students were constantly devoted to the cause for which the CIEE has mobilised them since 2006. At the same time, I regret to say that it was not always easy to garner unanimity for the realisation of certain projects, however important they may have seemed to me.
When all is said and done, what I learnt above all was that it is crucial to cultivate openness of the spirit and of the heart when working with young people, without forgetting patience and perseverance. I sincerely loved the work that was entrusted to me, and I loved the students who welcomed, adopted and above all supported me in my mission.
Work for peace
In the preface of his Theologico-Political Treatise, philosopher Baruch Spinoza wrote: “I have often wondered that persons who make a boast of professing the Christian religion, namely, love, joy, peace, temperance and charity to all men, should quarrel with such rancorous animosity, and display daily towards one another such bitter hatred, that this, rather than the virtues they claim, is the readiest criterion of their faith. Matters have long since come to such a pass, that one can only pronounce a man Christian, Turk, Jew or Heathen, by his general appearance and attire, by his frequenting this or that place of worship, or employing the phraseology of a particular sect – as for manner of life, it is in all cases the same.”
Just as, in his time, the 17-century philosopher was shocked to see Christians – who profess a religion of love – up in arms, I too was shocked to see people in this country who profess religions of love (Islam and Christianity) turn to such atrocious violence. Tired of being submitted not once, not twice, not three but many times to the abuses committed by those who were always considered here in Bangui as ‘invaders’, Christians affirm that they were forced to react violently against their aggressors – the majority-Muslim Seleka rebels.
Was this the right way for people meant to be living witnesses of God’s love among men? All would agree that it was certainly not the right reaction to show. But, as the political philosopher Hannah Arendt said, when faced with evil, man’s natural reaction is vengeance.
Dear students, Pope (Saint) John XXIII said peace is at once a gift from God and a human work, a good to be invoked and, at the same time, to build with effort. I encourage you then to work for peace and reconciliation in your country, always keeping before you the words of the wise man Mandela: Courageous men do not fear forgiving for the sake of peace.