Photograph: Siegfried Modola/Reuters. The Guardian.
As Thanksgiving arrives tomorrow, I think it is important to acknowledge the good in the world. Father Bernard Kenvi (Kinvi) is a Catholic Priest in the country of Central African Republic (CAR) who has been providing safety to Muslim people in his church and missionary area. I first read about Father Bernard Kenvi last Spring. Whether you have a faith tradition or not, it is good to know there are people in the world who rise above tragic situations to do whatever they can to protect those who are most vulnerable. Read along with me about the good Father Kenvi has done.
Sam Jones from The Guardian writes:
“In a predominantly Christian country terrorized by Muslim rebels as recently as January, Father Bernard Kinvi took his life in his hands when he resolved to protect Muslims threatened by sectarian violence. But the priest, who has won a Human Rights Watch award for his work, believes the conflict in CAR is misunderstood – and says his mission is far from over.
The Seleka terrorised the country’s majority Christian population, killing men, women and children until they were forced from power in January. Their fall was swiftly followed by the rise of the predominantly Christian anti-balaka (anti-machete) militia, whose campaign of vengeance has resulted in the murder of thousands of Muslims and forced hundreds of thousands to seek refuge in neighbouring countries.
When the Seleka fled Bossemptele in January – taking Kinvi’s precious car with them – the anti-balaka swept into the north-western town, slaughtering 80 Muslims.
Kinvi responded to the threat by opening the doors of the mission to terrified Muslims and looking for those hiding in the bush.
Despite daily threats from the anti-balaka, who could not understand why a Catholic was defending Muslims, he continued sheltering them in the mission’s church, hospital and school.
“It wasn’t a decision; it was just something that happened,” he says. “As a priest, I cannot support the killing of a man. We’re all human: religion doesn’t come into it. If anti-balaka come in wounded, I treat them. I don’t care who you are or what you do with your life or what your religion is, you are a human being and I will treat you.”
At one point, 1,500 Muslims were living under the protection of a man whose only sources of power were his faith and the black cassock with a large red cross on the chest that he wears as a member of the Camillian order.
When he went out in search of bodies to bury, the anti-balaka would taunt him: “We have our jobs, father, and you have yours: we kill them and you bury them.”
From mid-January to April, Kinvi barely slept, terrified that if he closed his eyes the militia would fulfill their threats to murder all the Muslims in the mission.”
Jones goes on to share the change that came to Kenvi from his work in a war torn area:
“When I became a priest, I undertook to serve the sick even if it meant putting my life in danger,” he says. “I said that but I didn’t really know what it meant. But when the war came, I understood what it means to risk your life. Being a priest is about more than giving blessings; it’s about standing with those who have lost everything.”
Alison Lesley for World Religion News says:
“Father Bernard Kinvi gives a glimpse into the world that not many give us anymore. He strove to save lives, and do what was right by his own morals and values. He valued human life before he cared what anyone’s religion was.”
Jones concludes The Guardian Article with these thoughts:
“Kinvi’s efforts to protect the Muslims of Bossemptele have been recognised by the international NGO Human Rights Watch, which recently bestowed on him its Alison Des Forges award, which honours “people of valour who have put their lives on the line to create a world free from abuse, discrimination and oppression”.
But even Kinvi, an optimist whose near-constant smile is undimmed by the depravity he has witnessed, knows that CAR is far from free of that triple scourge.
For now, more than 400,000 of the country’s Muslims remain refugees outside its borders while almost 175,000 are displaced within them.
“I thirst for peace in CAR,” he says. “I want to see people able to move around safely like in any other country. I want to see my Muslim brothers, who have lost everything, return to their homes. It’s their country and they need to be back home.”
Today, I give thanks for people like Father Bernard. People who have the courage to stand in the gap between violence and safety, life and death. People who stand with others through difficult and painful times in life. People who stand with those who have lost everything. People who make all the difference in the world.
More on Father Bernard can be found at the following websites: