Each year, Time Magazine releases an issue reporting its selection of the 100 most influential people in the world. This year’s list includes imam Kobine Layama, Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga and The Rev. Nicolas Guérékoyame-Gbangou from the Central African Republic. Portrayed by French Newspaper Le Monde as the “3 Saints of Bangui”, these valiant men have risked their lives to stand for love and unity in the face of massacres and a violent the civil war rending their nation.
Even in world full of war, violence, and strife, the Central African Republic remains constantly in the headlines for its bloody civil war, its ruthless massacres, and the massive exodus of Muslims from the country.
The conflict started with the seizing of power in Bangui by Seleka rebel movements, which come from the country’s north, where there is a muslim majority. Following horror perpetrated by the Seleka, militias were formed throughout the country, which began targeting not only the Seleka fighters, but tragically the muslim population at large. These “anti-balakas” (combining the words for anti and machete) committed atrocities (often with the use of machete) leaving thousands of muslims dead and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee.
In the face of this intense, inhumane violence, these three religious leaders – and many others who remain unknown – have stood up fearlessly on the frontline of peace efforts in the country. Bangui’s imame Layama, stayed together with his family at the home of Archibishop Nzapalainga. Many muslims have also found shelter in catholic or protestant churches throughout the country. Even though the atrocities persist, the uncommon interfaith devotion of these courageous leaders has saved the lives of many.