Millennial of the Year 2014: Father Bernard Kinvi

In theory, the Catholic commitment to human rights should be just that: catholic (universal). We should mourn the Sunni child set on fire at his school by Bashar al-Assad’s forces just as much as the Christian child in Syria executed by Daesh (ISIS). The hundreds of attacks on schools by the Taliban should sicken us as much as the recent terrorist attack on French journalists. And we should support efforts to end the atrocities of the Central African Republic, whether the victims are Christians, Muslims, or neither.

For Catholics who fully embrace Church teaching and the message of Jesus Christ, human rights are universal and inviolable. Fellow Christians are not our only brothers and sisters. We are one human family. A sectarian agenda that values the lives of Christians over others is contrary to our faith. And it has been disgraceful to see so many, particularly (but not exclusively) in regards to the Middle East, embracing this sectarianism over the last couple of years, including important figures in the Church who should know better. That is what makes this year’s Millennial of the Year so remarkable. Father Bernard Kinvi, 32, not only embraces the Church’s commitment to human rights and the human dignity of all, he put his own life on the line in order to uphold those principles in the midst of a brutal conflict in the Central African Republic.

Fr. Kinvi rescued over a thousand Muslims from violence by anti-balaka militias who were slaughtering innocent people and those who stood in their way. Human Rights Watch has described Fr. Kinvi’s heroism:

Kinvi spent days searching for Muslim survivors, many of them children, and taking them to the Catholic church for safety. During the course of the conflict, he sheltered hundreds of Muslims in the church, despite repeated death threats from anti-balaka forces.

In March 2014, African peacekeepers evacuated most of the remaining Muslims in Bossemptele to Cameroon, adding to the more than 100,000 Muslims who have already fled the country. About 70 people, including more than a dozen disabled children, were left behind at the Catholic mission, too weak to make the journey. Undeterred, Kinvi continued caring for the Muslims in his charge and ultimately arranged for them to be reunited with their families.

Fr. Kinvi explained, “It’s not that we made a specific decision to help the Muslims. It’s that our mission is to protect the weakest and most vulnerable.” This is our faith. Fr. Kinvi has provided a powerful and inspiring witness of that faith. We are proud to have him as our 2014 Millennial of the Year.