- Associated Press - Sunday, May 4, 2014

HYATTSVILLE, Md. (AP) - Retirement means days of relaxation and fun-filled travel for many, but not for Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the archbishop emeritus of Washington, who returned last month from a State Department mission to a war-torn part of Africa.

Security is so unstable in the Central African Republic that the mission’s pilot refused to stay any longer than necessary, the cardinal told The Washington Times.

“Our pilot said, ‘I’m out of here when the sun goes down.’ We flew in right as the sun was coming up and left right as the sun was going down,” McCarrick said at Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Hyattsville. “It took awhile to get the trip underway.”

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McCarrick, 83, and two other faith leaders made the trip as part of a humanitarian effort.

The Central African Republic, a small nation bordering Congo, Cameroon and South Sudan, has been beset by decades of rebellions.

The cardinal explained that, after the overthrow and death of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, throngs of displaced people, including Muslim rebels, began crossing the borders of countries throughout the continent’s northern and central regions - including the Central African Republic, where Christians make up the majority of the population.

“People came in to the CAR from outside and began to persecute Christians,” he said.

The violence came to a head in March 2013 when Christians responded to the persecution by attacking Muslims.

Christians formed security groups, called anti-balaka, that killed members of the Muslim community and drove about 20 percent of the republic’s population out of the country.

“It was based on vengeance. So often that’s the problem,” McCarrick said somberly. “Many people are trying to make life impossible for Muslims.”

The retired cardinal made the trip to the volatile country with Imam Mohamed Magid of the Islamic Society of North America and Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelists.

The delegation was scheduled to tour one of the local mosques but, in a clear example of the tension in the Central African Republic even among each faith, one of the local imams traveling with the North American contingent was told he was not welcome.

“It was just a bad scene,” McCarrick said. “We did not go to the mosque because of the situation. It was too dangerous for this man to go.”

McCarrick retired in 2006 after five years as archbishop and was succeeded by Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl. Since then, McCarrick has made numerous trips to areas scarred by violence and disaster.

In the past six months, the New York native has visited the Philippines to view typhoon damage, as well as Rome and Iran. He returned from a visit to China and Japan just days before his trip to the Central African Republic. He speaks five languages.

In the Central African Republic, McCarrick and his group ultimately found another mosque to visit, as well as a cathedral. He added his name to a “Declaration for Peace” that outlines a desire for an end to violence and encourages “inter-religious dialogue.”

“We wanted to be careful that we were not telling them what to do,” McCarrick said. “We hope to give them things to think about and find in their own book of prayer.”

One way to do that, he said, is to remind people of the Catholic teaching that all are “brothers and sisters in one huge family.”

“Here is certainly a great opportunity to do that,” he said.


Information from: The Washington Times, https://www.washtimes.com

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