On Place de la Nation, in N’Djamena, Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix cathedral is gradually regaining its luster. The vault of the nave, in the shape of an overturned ship’s hull, has resumed the look it had before the fire which ravaged its roof following a bombardment on April 21, 1980, during the second civil war. Ten years later, in 1990, Pope John Paul II wanted to preside over a mass in front of the building deeply marked by the disaster. From now on, the tiles of the new roof – the construction of which is three quarters complete – rest on a metal frame. Enough to forget the old wooden structure, completely devastated.
“Originally, the cathedral had been erected according to the will of General Leclerc who, at the start of the Second World War in 1940, had expressed the wish to have a building built religious in this place if France were one day liberated”, says Mgr Edmond Djitangar, the archbishop of N’Djamena. Shortly before, on August 26, 1940, Félix Éboué, governor of Chad, had announced his rallying to Free France, the camp of the resistance and of General de Gaulle.
Willingness to guarantee secularism
Designed in the 1950s by the Marseilles architect André Gallerand, Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix was only inaugurated and consecrated five years after the independence of Chad, in 1965. From the nave to the choir and its chapel, it extends over 70 meters long and 35 wide, an area of 1,800 m2 which allows it to accommodate 2,000 faithful.
After the destruction of its roof – which peaks again at 29 meters –, for lack of means, the cathedral was covered with a tarpaulin. Until, in 2013, President Idriss Déby Itno decided to undertake its complete rehabilitation, using the State’s own funds, to the tune of approximately 5.9 billion CFA francs (nearly 9 million euros ). “Idriss Déby Itno wanted to mark the will of the Chadian State to guarantee the secularism of the Republic, undermined by the jihadist push and the terrorist attacks of Boko Haram in the sub-region”, specifies the current Prime Minister, Albert Pahimi Padacké; since the end of 2012, the country had also become an oil producer. At the time, the president had simultaneously launched the site of the future basilica of N’Djamena and that of the restoration of the cathedral Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix.
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Unfortunately, the rehabilitation work, which was to last only a few months, was abruptly interrupted after part of the budget was misappropriated. Finally, a major international fundraiser was organized at the initiative of the Archbishop, in partnership with Ecobank, to finish financing the restoration. Delayed many times, the reopening of the cathedral is scheduled for the 2022 Christmas celebrations.
A country united in matters of religion
In the meantime, as they have done for more than forty years, the faithful meet at each service under a large tent set up at the other end of the Place de la Nation. “We are impatient to find our church, confirms Father Achille Djimwoi, who regularly leads the mass. When I was a child, I remember this terrible vision of the smoke which we saw, from very far, hovering above the cathedral… The belligerents had bombarded the church because they thought that certain enemy soldiers had taken refuge there. I have always dreamed of coming back to pray at the cathedral. It is said that it was in its basements that Goukouni Weddeye and Hissène Habré were reconciled. »
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Around him, young faithful are also delighted with this long-awaited reopening. The Christian community, mostly Catholic, today represents more than 40% of the Chadian population. “We have no problem with our Muslim brothers! one of them exclaims. They try to divide us, but Chad is a united country in matters of religion. We’re discreet, that’s all. »
If the Christian establishment dates from the beginning of the XXe century, the number of conversions continues to increase, according to the authorities of the diocese of N’Djamena. “We have been living in a certain precariousness for a long time,” explains the dynamic and cautious Archbishop Djitangar. But things are slowly improving. “And, located in the heart of the capital and the Chadian nation-state, almost opposite the presidential palace, the cathedral will have the advantage of benefiting from a security reinforced.