Fr. Kinvi’s mission for muslim refugees: A love message to the world

Father Bernard Kinvi helps a Muslim man climb down from an open truck in Bossemptele, Central African Republic. Photograph: Siegfried Modola/Reuters

Father Bernard Kinvi helps a Muslim man climb down from an open truck in Bossemptele, Central African Republic. Photograph: Siegfried Modola/Reuters

A catholic Priest in the Central African Republic (CAR) has recently captured the world’s attention by his singular effort in sheltering 1,500 Muslims from brutal massacre. This unique heroic deed by Rev. Fr. Bernard Kinvi, who opened his Church as a place of refuge for Muslims fleeing brutal sectarian violence, has won him the 2015 Peace Prize of US$1million tagged the Aurora Prize for Awakening humanity. According to George Timothy Clooney (popular American actor, screenwriter, producer, director and activist), who presented the Award in April 2016, “The Award is given to individuals, who put themselves at risk to enable others survive.”

In a statement, the Aurora Prize Committee said the priest, a missionary from Togo, who directs a Catholic Mission Hospital, was selected because he “provided medical assistance and refuge to both sides of the armed conflict, establishing his mission as a safe haven for any and all who were injured, despite the violence that raged outside.” And when the rebels threatened to kill the Muslims under his care, he was able to organise their transfer over the border into Cameroun and into relative safety. He had on different occasions, allowed the African Peacekeepers to evacuate countless numbers of Muslims he sheltered in his Church.

In another development, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) awarded the Nansen Refugee Award to Rev. Sr. Angelique Namaika for her exceptional acts of rehabilitating refugees in an extraordinary way beyond compare. She works in the remote North East Region of Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with survivors of displacement and abuse by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) that have been forced to flee in DRC’s North – Eastern province of Orientale.

Sr. Angelique, through her Centre for Reintegration and Development, has helped transform the lives of more than 20,000 women and girls of various religious persuasions, who were forced from their homes and abused, mainly by the LRA. Many of those she helps recount stories of abduction, forced labour, beatings, murder, rape and other human rights abuses.

Her one-on-one approach, as monitored by IDMC (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre), helps them recover from psychological trauma. On top to the abuse they have suffered, these vulnerable women and girls are often ostracised by their own families and communities because of their ordeal. It takes a special kind of care to help them heal and to pick up the pieces of their lives. Sr. Angelique does this by helping them learn a trade, start a small business or return to school. Testimonies from these women show the remarkable effect she has had on helping turn around their lives, with many affectionately calling her “Mother.”

These laudable and exceptional loving acts by the above heroic Christians in imitation of Jesus “Who went about doing good” deserves our garland. It is a major victory for humanity that transcends religious barriers and frontiers; a lesson for us to be our brothers’ keeper without discrimination on the basis of tribe or religion. This reminds me of the poetic words of Alexander Pope: “Teach me to feel another’s woe, To hide the fault I see; That mercy I to others show: That mercy show to me.”

If you think that Christians are the only ones that show love to people of other faiths, then hear this cheery news of a Muslim community in Egypt that donated money in May 2015 for the building of a new Coptic Church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. This has become a watershed in Muslim-Christian relations in that part of Egypt and shows that the Vatican’s efforts in promoting Inter-Religious Dialogue is gradually yielding fruit.

According to Fides News Agency (official news agency of the Vatican), Muslims from the Governorate of Al Manufiyya, located in northern Cairo made the handsome donation. The Muslim community wished to show their solidarity with Coptic Christians following the murder of 21 Egyptian Copts in Libya by the Jihadists, the so-called ‘Islamic State’ (IS). Following a call for collections made by Coptic Orthodox Bishop Benyamin, several leading members of the Muslim community offered a contribution. Young people and even children gave money for the construction project. Bishop Benyamin said that the donation “is a message addressed to the whole world.” The Governorate of Al Manufiyya is best known as the birthplace of two former Egyptian presidents: Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated by militants of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and Hosni Mubarak, who was forced to resign following the Arab Spring. In 1981, the former exiled the Coptic Patriarch Shenouda III, accusing him of fomenting inter-confessional strife and in 1985, the latter restored him.

On the issue of Muslim-Christian relation, this is not the first time that Muslims are showing solidarity to Christians and vice versa. In 2010, a New Year’s Eve attack by Islamic fundamentalist on the Coptic Orthodox Church in the City of Alexandria left 21 dead and many more injured. One week later, thousands of Muslims stood as human shields outside churches as Coptic Christians attended Masses. In Tahrir Square, Cairo, on Wednesday 2 February 2011, Coptic Christians joined hands to provide a protective cordon around their Muslim neighbours during salat (prayers) in the midst of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution.

Back to the thematic focus of this article: Why are these rare gestures of love breaking news, especially in Egypt? It is because ever since the advent of Islam, when Muslim forces invaded Egypt in A.D 639, the once dominant Christian religion that St. Mark, the Apostle of Jesus Christ brought into Egypt in the first century A.D., was reduced over time to a minority group of less than 20 per cent of the population, there has been no love lost between them as both religions have been at daggers drawn and remained strange bed fellows. If Muslims had not invaded Egypt, Christianity with its succession of Patriarchs that has remained unbroken down to the present day, would have flourished luxuriantly.

But in spite of persecution and other hardships, Christians continue in their faith with courage and determination. In Egypt, the government practises a type of Sharia that does not officially recognise conversions from Islam to Christianity; also certain interfaith marriages are not allowed. This prevents marriages between converts to Christianity and those born in Christian communities, and also results in the children of Christian converts being classified as Muslims and given a Muslim education.  Egypt’s Umayyad rulers taxed Christians at a higher rate than Muslims, driving merchants towards Islam and undermining the economic base of the Coptic Church. Although the Coptic Church did not disappear, the Umayyad tax policies made it difficult for the church to retain the Egyptian elites. The government also requires permits for repairing churches or building new ones, which are often withheld. Foreign missionaries are allowed in the country, only if they restrict their activities to social improvements and refrain from proselytising. It is hoped that with continued dialogue, all these would change for good.

We look forward to a time when allegorically speaking: “Wolves and sheep will live together in peace, and leopards will lie down with young goats, calves and lion cubs will feed together, and little children will take care of them. Cows and bears will eat together and their calves and cubs will lie down in peace. Lions will eat straw as cattle do. Even a baby will not be harmed, if it plays near a poisonous snake….” (Isaiah 11: 6-9). This should be our candid prayer for religious tolerance, more so that both religions preach peace and love.

Isu, a Chartered Accountant, writes from Abuja.



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