I write in the devout hope that Fr Justin Nary is still alive.
He is the remarkably courageous priest in the Central African
Republic who was last week reported to have sheltered 800 Muslims
inside his church - and defied the self-styled Christian militia
outside who wanted him to hand over the innocents to be
Muslims are being driven from large swaths of the country by
"anti-balaka" vigilantes, who are taking revenge for similarly
barbarous acts by the Seleka, an Islamist militia which rampaged
through the country last year, killing and terrorising Christians,
and looting their homes, shops, schools, hospitals, and churches
December). All this is happening in a country where the two
faiths had previously lived peaceably side by side for
The Christian bandits have told Fr Nary that if he does not
expel those taking sanctuary in his compound, they will burn down
the church with him inside it. Indeed, they have been back once
with 40 litres of petrol, and left only when the priest paid them
to go. He did not know, he told a BBC reporter, Tim Whewell, what
would happen now.
Courage is often portrayed nowadays as an individual act, as
with a heroic action on the battlefield. But there seems something
even braver about someone whose acquaintance with danger is
sustained or repeated.
Next week, a BBC World Service documentary, which can be heard
in the UK on digital radio, tells the story of one of the unsung
heroes of the genocide in Rwanda, 20 years ago next month. Captain
Mbaye Diagne was an officer in the Senegalese Army who was working
with the UN's peacekeeping mission in a country in which well over
half a million people, mainly ethnic Tutsis, but also moderate
Hutus, were killed by blood-crazed Hutu militants.
In the midst of all this - and in defiance of his restrictive UN
brief not to intervene to rescue civilians - Captain Diagne saved
nearly 600 individuals by smuggling them, in groups ofthree or
four, under blankets in his car, past the roadblocks set up around
Kigali to manage the ghastly ethnic cleansing.
He did so at great personal risk. He began by rescuing the
children of the moderate Hutu Prime Minister, who had just been
murdered with his wife and ten Belgian paratrooper bodyguards. But
he continued throughout his tour of duty, rescuing anyone whom he
came across who was in distress.
His secret weapons were cheeriness and charm. He cracked jokes
with the wild men at the roadblocks, or bribed them with money,
cigarettes, or whisky, which he, although a Muslim, carried in his
vehicle specifically for that purpose.
But courage takes its toll. Only 12 days before he was due to
return home, the captain ranghis wife back in Senegal. His talk
seemed unusually preoccupied with death, she tells the
documentary-maker, the reporter Mark Doyle - who was personally
saved from execution by Captain Diagne. Not long afterwards, the
Captain died when a mortar struck his vehicle. "He was the bravest
of all," a fellow peacekeeper recalls - not least because he showed
such bravery at a time when the rest of the world was demonstrating
Paul Vallely is Visiting Professor in Public Ethics and
Media at the University of Chester.