Against the backdrop of a tense atmosphere in Ivory Coast ahead of presidential elections in October, the Catholic bishops in the West African nation have resolved to stand against “the sacrificing of human lives” and to engage in building bridges between the people.
“The Bishop, Minister of Reconciliation, cannot accept the lack of combined will of the antagonists; he cannot accept the sacrificing of human lives in the calculation of particular interests,” Bishop Ignace Bessi, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Ivory Coast (Cecci), said at the opening of their 114th Plenary Assembly in the diocese of Korhogo Tuesday, January 14.
According to Bishop Bessi, the Catholic Church is concerned about the trials that the people are going through.
“The Church intends to face them (trials), in truth, and to give her contribution, destroying the barriers between people and building bridges between them,” Bishop Bessi told the general assembly being held under the theme “communion at the service of reconciliation.”
A rise in tensions in recent weeks between Ouattara and his political rivals has raised fears of election-related violence in Francophone West Africa’s largest economy, where a disputed 2010 vote set off a civil war that killed 3,000 people, Voanews has reported.
Five lawmakers were among 17 people detained after the government of President Alassane Ouattara accused former rebel leader Guillaume Soro of plotting a coup.
Ouattara came to power in 2011 after members of Soro’s rebel movement fought alongside United Nations and French troops to oust ex-leader Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to acknowledge an election defeat. Soro, who was seen as a possible successor to Ouattara resigned as Speaker of the national assembly in February last year to build his own political base.
Reflecting on the theme of their first 2020 meeting, Bishop Bessi said that reconciliation is a constant concern for the Catholic Bishops of Ivory Coast.
The Ivorian Prelate said in reference to reconciliation, “It is rooted in their ordination which establishes them and commits them as ministers of the sacrament of reconciliation. For the Ivorian Church, communion and reconciliation are two sides of the same coin. If communion does not commit itself to reconciliation, it will eventually disappear.”
According to the Local Ordinary of Katiola and Apostolic Administrator of Korhogo, “If reconciliation has a purpose other than communion, it will not succeed, it will die.”
In his considered view, “the search for reconciliation, in this election year, one of the issues that can have an impact on social peace, requires transparency in the management of problems related to the elections.”
The Bishop cautioned those charged with the mandate to conduct the elections to adhere to the constitutional provisions saying, “If the referee is both referee and player, the end of the competition is already known, and it is usually disastrous.”
He explained, “The role of referee assigned to the Independent Electoral Commission requires its total independence. This perfect independence requires that it be equidistant from all those who are in competition.”
Also speaking at the meeting, the Apostolic Nuncio in Ivory Coast, Archbishop Paolo Borgia invited the Ivorian Bishops to unite and to refuse “any personal involvement in political quarrels to the detriment of the common good.”
“It is important that you maintain constructive relations with the authorities of your country as well as with the various components of society,” the Papal representative in the West African nation advised.
During the general assembly, the Ivorian Bishops are expected to deliberate on the issue of safeguarding children and vulnerable persons.
The discussions would lead to the establishment of a protocol and reporting structures in view of guaranteeing the protection of all vulnerable persons against abuses and measures against perpetrators of abuse.
The 2017-2022 strategic plan will be evaluated and validated by the Plenary Assembly, which will end on January 19.