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There Are Few Places Where the Message of Easter Is as Relevant as the Central African Republic

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Easter is a time for Christians to reflect on the core message of our faith: that even when there is suffering and death, there is still hope and new life.

There are few places where that message is as relevant as the Central African Republic, which has been wracked by violence over the last year. Hundreds of thousands of Christian families will be spending this Easter huddled in overcrowded tents in squalid internal displacement camps. Many of their Muslim compatriots are living in even worse conditions, forced to flee to neighbouring countries.

More than 800,000 people, many of them children, now face the imminent rainy season with little protection from cold, hunger and disease.

The conflict in CAR has been framed purely as a schism between Muslims and Christians, but the reality is more complex. It is churches and mosques that have provided a refuge for frightened civilians of all faiths. Imams and priests have played a key role in protecting those most in need and preaching a message of peace.

Recently, religious leaders from both communities visited Archbishop Justin Welby at Lambeth Palace on a trip to highlight the problems facing their country. During the visit the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bangui, Dieudonné Nzapalainga, said Central African Republicans needed not only to disarm weapons, but to "disarm the spirit and the heart."

There is much that local interfaith and community leaders can do to make the Easter message of redemption a reality on the ground in CAR, but they need the support of the international community.

Humanitarian agencies like Save the Children are working across the country to provide urgently-needed food, shelter, healthcare and education, but the international aid effort is scandalously underfunded. The overall United Nations appeal is only 23% funded, and the organisation has expressed real concerns that we could see a hunger crisis in CAR in the coming months.

There is also an immediate need for an expanded peacekeeping force that can bring an end to the ongoing tit-for-tat violence. The current African Union and French peacekeepers on the ground - soon to be joined by a small contingent of European Union troops - are doing the best job they can, but they are too small in number and poorly equipped to fulfil their mandate. A new UN force will arrive in September, but peacekeepers are desperately needed on the ground now. Until that happens, families will not be able to return to their homes and rebuild their lives.

Despite these challenges, I have faith in the human capacity for hope and generosity of spirit. Easter is a time for celebration of the triumph of light over darkness and sacrifice into new life. For the children of CAR, who have sacrificed so much, this is our opportunity to give them something to be hopeful about.

The Rt Revd Dr Alastair Redfern is Lord Bishop of Derby

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