“I believe in Providence, even in wartime”

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Violence and poverty are bringing the Central African Republic to its knees. In the place where everything seems lost, a Combonian nun tells the story of her silent work

In Bangui there’s shooting. In Bangui hunger and poverty have tightened their grip on people. In Bangui Combonian nuns are fighting alongside their people and have no intention of giving up. Life in Bangui is a cauldron of violence, massacres, common graves, looting and panic. One woman in the Central African Republic has sent out a desperate call for help, calling our consciences into question: “I appeal to all people of goodwill to do something concrete to help these brothers and sisters who are going through such hardship and suffering as a result of this injustice. Please help me; no one pays attention to our desperate cause any more. Uncertainty and misery reign supreme, with the poorest paying the price: there are families that have lost everything.”

Sister Giovanna Bona, a Combonian nun has been in Bangui since November 2012, although she had already lived there from 1974 to 1979, during the dictatorship of Jean Bedel Bokassa. When we contacted her, Sister Giovanna told us about the “deaths and violent clashed” in the country. “In recent days we found a body right outside the monastery, on the river bank. May the Lord have mercy upon us.” The “sites” as the refugee camps are called, are filling up again. There are thousands and thousands of displaced people. “It’s not an NGO I run, there are too many dealing with these sorts of situations; I am just a missionary who wants to be by the side of the poor and as Francis would say, run the risk of encounter with other people, with their physical presence that is calling, with their pain and their requests, to have full contact with them,” Sister Giovanna explained.

In her vocation of service to the poor, she reflected on the charisma of the Combonian missionaries’ founder: “St. Daniele Comboni has always fascinated and enthused me with his call “Africa or death”. His love, his zeal, his tenderness and openness towards everyone, especially the poor are qualities that have always made my heart buzz.” Despite the difficulties and the fear, Sister Giovanna “is happy to be in Bangui in this moment of darkness to support these brothers and sisters in their cause and meet Jesus, God in his wounded state, as Francis always encourages us to do.”

In her “beautiful and very eventful” 50-year experience as a missionary, Sister Giovanna has been to Eritrea, Congo and Uganda and was even in Dubai for a short period. Her passion is “teaching the Bible”, so, paraphrasing Psalm 112:9, “I feel like I am mother to so many children and I am grateful to the Lord for this. I am certain in my heart that hope is strengthened by trials and gold is purified by fire: I go on in peace and continue to take care of the poor and the young.”

The Christian communities are trying to make people’s life as normal as possible: “We have set up elementary and high schools with two sewing centres, providing education and cooking classes to young girls and boys.” Let us not forget the catastrophic situation we have on our hands. There are only two establishments that haven’t been hit by the crisis: the beer factory and this woman, Sister Giovanna. Although she’s swimming against the tide, Sister Giovanna is certain of one thing: “God’s Providence cannot abandon us.”

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Luciano Zanardini