Editor’s Note: Kevin Clarke, senior editor and chief correspondent for America magazine, is reporting from Central African Republic and is touring programs operated by Catholic Relief Services. His blog posts are being published by Catholic News Service under a special arrangement with the magazine. This post was written May 4.
A member of a choir sings a song of reconciliation and peace in front of a Catholic cathedral during the last day of Easter celebrations in Bangui, Central African Republic, April 21. (CNS/Siegfried Modola, Reuters)
Mohamed Bomassa was saved today by his baseball cap. “Pour la Paix” it reads, he holds it up for a photo. “This protected me,” he says, explaining that, for a Muslim youth, crossing Bangui, the capital city of the Central African Republic, can be a fatal experience these days. But it is hard to imagine that simple message embossed across a cap was enough to protect this young man from the roving bands of Anti-Balaka militia.
Bomassa grins widely not the message, he explains. The hat covered the prayer mark on his forehead, a small bump at the top of the head most observant Muslim men acquire from kneeling and resting their heads on prayers rugs five times each day. The small bumps have been used by Anti-Balakas to identify Muslims on the streets of Bangui.
Which is not to say that Bomassa does not find solace in the message he wears on his hat, spreading it surreptitiously in this manner through this deeply divided community. It’s a message that he takes to his heart and lives in his life every day now in Bangui. As his city and his nation have been torn by strife that has frequently taken on all the ugly characteristics of an interreligious conflict, he is joining with other young people across religious lines to bring a message of peace and reconciliation to Central African communities now trapped in sometimes deadly cycles of suspicion and recrimination.
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