In Bangui, an evening with the general

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 7.

By Kevin Clarke

BANGUI, Central African Republic — Coming from such a large and imposing figure, the soft voice of the general is a surprise. One has to lean in and listen closely to hear Mohamed-Moussa Dhaffane speak, sharing the high drama of the moment in something close to a whisper.

As acting president of Seleka in the Central African Republic and a former minister of water and forests for the ousted government, Dhaffane still haunts the capital, Bangui, in discussions with local government officials, NGO leaders and representatives of the international community.

His life is essentially in mortal peril each day as he makes his rounds for dialogue and courtesy calls. Many have urged him to leave Bangui for his own safety; his family has already fled the country entirely. But Dhaffane is determined to remain in the capital.

“Leaders should stop saying one thing and then doing something else,” says the general. “When I told the Muslims to turn back, I continued to stay myself in Bangui despite all the risks I am running.”

People hide from gunfire near a church during a Feb. 18 firefight between African peacekeepers and fighters from the Anti-Balaka militia in Bangui, Central African Republic.  (CNS/Reuters)

People hide from gunfire near a church during a Feb. 18 firefight between African peacekeepers and fighters from the Anti-Balaka militia in Bangui, Central African Republic. (CNS/Reuters)

He travels with two stone-faced Seleka guards in crisp jungle camouflage uniforms and AK-47s slung from their shoulders. The general says he keeps his own “Kalashnikov” with him in the car as the small squad moves across Bangui’s sometimes invisible and sometimes thoroughly barricaded borders, demarcations of districts no Muslim is safe to pass.

Despite the clear divisions that have erupted between the nation’s Christians and Muslims because of the conflict, Dhaffane echoes Christian leaders of Bangui in insisting that the struggle “is not religious, though politicians are trying to manipulate this as a religious conflict.”

“But if we are not careful it could become a religious conflict,” he quickly adds.

Of the state of the nation now, he says, reconciliation is still possible. “The situation is difficult, but we are allowed to hope.

“We can fix the problem quickly with the engagement of all religious leaders,” he says. “Let’s separate religions from the movements. Let’s put religions aside and have Seleka and anti-Balaka talk together because, in reality, Islam does not encourage people to go and kill civilians, and Islam does not encourage people to loot houses — it’s not in the Quran or in the words of the prophet. And in reality the Bible and the life of Jesus do not encourage people to eat the flesh of others and to kill others. When Jesus took the wine and said, ‘This is my blood,’ it was a symbol meant to unify people.

“What anti-Balaka has done is not in the Christian religion,” he says, “and what Seleka has done is not in Islam.

“Reconciliation is possible if the religious leaders are consistent in saying Seleka is one thing; Islam is something else. Anti-Balaka is one thing; Christianity is something else.”

Read more about this interview here.

Capturing the madness and joy of the canonizations

By Emily Antenucci

VATICAN CITY — As a Villanova University student doing an internship at the Rome bureau of Catholic News Service, I had the opportunity to be in Rome for the canonizations of St. John Paul and St. John XXIII.

The anticipation was high for this event and, truth be told, I was a little bit nervous about how it would play out. I was told that Rome’s population for the weekend would skyrocket and I knew that public transportation or even just walking around the city would be a nightmare.

Regardless of the screaming crowds that I stood in and the distance I had to walk to catch a bus home, it was one of the most memorable moments of my life.

With a video camera in hand, I wandered around Rome and Vatican City Saturday and Sunday to capture the madness and the joy.

I interviewed people in the crowds and took video of my surroundings the night before the canonizations as well as the morning of the Mass. I pushed my way through the crowds; I stood in the square with the clergy; and I talked my way onto Bernini’s colonnade with the press.

Hundreds of thousands of people traveled from all over the world for this historic weekend and I was lucky enough to be in the thick of it all. This is what I found:


Hearing God in ‘The Voice’ of the people


ROME — Ursuline Sister Cristina Scuccia nailed it again last night with her rendition of Irene Cara’s “Flashdance…What a feeling.” As you can see in the screengrab above, she stood before an opening backdrop that looked quite similar to this and this.

Viewers of last night’s live show voted for her to continue on to the final rounds on “The Voice of Italy.”


Her coach, rap-artist J-Ax, wanted her to do that particular song because, he said, it shows that it’s “a beautiful feeling to believe.”

Before she stepped on stage, Sister Cristina told the cameras (in her pre-taped “backstory”) that she had no idea she would be such a hit.

But she credits each of her successive victories on the TV talent show series “is because he (God) wants it that way…The voice of the people is the voice of God.”

sisterax tshirts

She continues to win the hearts of the public around the world, the show’s judges and the studio audience. A group of fans had #SisterAx t-shirts made — a play on the “Sister Act” movie and Sister Cristina being on #TeamJAx.”

She has said she is using her singing talent and the televised venue to evangelize and to show the world that “God doesn’t take anything away [from you], rather he gives us even more! I’m came here for this reason!”


J-Ax was once again moved to tears by her performance and praised her discipline and hard work.

Responding to online criticisms of her singing abilities, he said talent and “skill is also knowing how to work with the limits life has given you,” adding that Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash had very limited vocal ranges, but were still hugely talented.

Referring to the overwhelmingly positive, and also some negative reactions Sister Cristina has provoked, J-Ax said “It’s paradoxical that a 25-year-old nun can be seen as the biggest rule-breaking rebel” out there.



Another notable moment last night was after Sister Cristina won the vote for the next round and the M.C. wished her luck, saying the equivalent of “break a leg”  in Italian, which is, “In the mouth of the wolf” [“In bocca al lupo”].

But Sister Cristina told him the better way to wish someone well is to say, “In the arms of Jesus,” which he did!


Toward the end of the show, she also joined the stage with some of the other female contestants and Australian singer Kylie Minogue to do the star’s hit from 2001, “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.”