It is time to remember, “the things that are truly important and essential: to save people, not destroy them.”
Those are the words of Catholic Priest, Father Bernard Kinvi, a monk of the Order of Saint Camillus and the leader of a mission in the Central African Republic’s town of Bossemptele.
Father Bernard first arrived in the Central African Republic in 2010 after finishing seminary in his homeland of Togo. At the time, he knew little of his adopted country except that “it was a place of military crises.” But suffering was not new to Father Bernard. His early years in Togo were not without immense hardship. He had seen people die in the crossfire of military and political conflict. His younger sister was killed in front of his eyes, his older sister murdered by her fiancé.
These experiences hammered out Father Bernard’s spirit of resilience and selfless service to God and humanity.
“I feel the suffering of others in my own soul. My life doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. Despite my fears, I gladly agree to help my fellow humans.”
But when Father Bernard came to Bossemptele, he could not foresee how deeply his motivation to serve the poor, the sick, the suffering, would be tested. By 2012, the country slid into civil war between Muslim Seleka rebels sweeping through the country and the anti-Balaka Christian militia rising up in response. The former French colony was trapped in a cycle of sectarian violence, described as “massive ethnic-religious cleansing.”
When the two sides descended upon Bossemptele, Father Bernard saved as many lives—regardless of religion or affiliation—as he could. In the mission, he created a sanctuary, providing refuge and health services to both sides, even convincing them to leave their weapons outside the mission gates.
Despite threats, untold suffering and daily hardship, Father Bernard’s conviction did not waiver. His motivation throughout remained undeterred: to serve God by serving his people. “Human life is sacred for me,” he says. “The life of any person, whoever he is, and whatever he’s done.”
These are values instilled and reinforced by the Order of Saint Camillus. Father Bernard attributes the person he is today to the order: “For nine years the Order of Saint Camillus impressed me with this: only serving your fellow men can make a human soul happy.” As a monk of the Order, Father Bernard made a vow to serve the sick—and not just those who are physically ill, but anyone who is weak and suffering, anyone who requires help.
And that is why, every day, Father Bernard strives to do more—to assist the poor and the needy, distribute medicine and care even more broadly and offer more classes so a greater number of children can attend school. Father Bernard has big plans for the future. He is working to buy additional equipment for the hospital, including the dental and ophthalmology units. Otherwise, that care is only available 300 km away, in the capital, Bangui. He is expanding mobile medical services to reach those in poor rural villages—villages without electricity and without internet access, where, without assistance, the cycle of poverty persists.
Father Bernard also seeks reconciliation and peace. He is investing in building social cohesion and continuing to build communities that are stable and self-sustaining.
As he says, “The modern world needs people who decisively align themselves with the weakest and the most deprived. The future of humanity depends on this.”
Father Bernard Kinvi was a finalist for the inaugural Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity. On behalf of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide and in gratitude to their saviors, the annual Aurora Prize aims to raise public consciousness about atrocities occurring around the world and reward those working to address these major issues in a real and substantial manner. The Prize is awarded annually on April 24 in Yerevan, Armenia.
Photo: Father Bernard Kinvi © 2014 Human Rights Watch