The bishops of the Central African Republic have urged Catholics not to give in to calls for revenge attacks on Muslims, following a surge in violence and the murder of a priest.

The CAR has suffered violence since December 2012, when several bands of mainly Muslim rebel groups formed an alliance, taking the name Seleka, and seized power.

In reaction to the Seleka's attacks, some Central Africans formed self-defense groups called anti-balaka. Some of these groups, mainly composed of Christians, began attacking Muslims out of revenge, and the conflict took on a sectarian character.

A group calling itself the League of Defense of the Church issued a statement earlier this month saying it would defend the Church and avenge killed priests, charging that both the government and the Church hierarchy have failed to protect Christians.

The Central African Bishops' Conference responded, saying, “The bishops of Central Africa were outraged by this communiqué from an organization called 'The League of Defense of the Church' in the Central African Republic of which they know nothing about.”

“The projects that this league claims to achieve are at odds with the gospel, the aspirations of the church and its mission in the Central African Republic,” continued Fr. Joseph Tanga Koti, general secretary of the bishops' conference.

“The Bishops of the Central African Republic want Central Africans to be vigilant. There are always enemies of peace who want to create a conflict between Christians and Muslims to show that Christians and Muslims cannot live together in Central Africa,” the conference has said.

The CAR held a general election in 2015-16 which installed a new government, but militant groups continue to terrorize local populations. Thousands of people have been killed in the violence, and at least a million have been displaced. At least half of Central Africans depend on humanitarian aid, the U.N. reports.

Pope Francis visited the CAR during his trip to Africa in 2015, and urged the country’s leaders to work for peace and reconciliation.

Three priests have keen killed in the CAR this year.

Fr. Firmin Gbagoua, vicar general of the Diocese of Bambari, was shot June 29 while eating dinner by the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic, and ex-Seleka militia dominated by the Fulani ethnic group.

In May, an attack on Our Lady of Fatima parish in Bangui while Mass was being said left 15 dead, including Fr. Albert Toungoumale Baba.

And in April, Fr. Joseph Désiré Angbabata was killed together with some of his parishioners in an attack on his church in Seko, about 40 miles northeast of Bambari.