Pope's visit of peace and hope in Africa

Pope Francis is greeted in the Central African Republic
Pope Francis is greeted in the Central African Republic

Pope Francis has returned to the Vatican after the first visit of a pontiff to an active war zone. As his security staff and those who were responsible for keeping him safe during his weeklong visit to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic (CAR) breathed a sigh of relief that the trip was without incident, he spoke of the joyful welcome he had received and the spirit of the people, despite their conditions. "It was the joy [that impressed him],” he told journalists on the plane back to Rome. “The crowds. The capacity to celebrate, even with an empty stomach."

The Pope had been determined to stick to his programme, which included a Jesuit parish in a slum in Nairobi, Kenya, a paediatric hospital run by the United Nations and the Muslim community in the capital of CAR, Bangui. He spoke on the journey home of the malnourished children he had met, about religious division and the aspects of faith that Christianity and Islam hold dear, and the Muslim refugees he visited in a district of Bangui who have sought sanctuary in the area. He even invited an iman to ride on the popemobile when he visited the mosque in the PK5 area of the CAR capital.

'Say no to violence in the name of God'

Young people were a special aspect of Pope Francis’ apostolic visit. In Kenya, he met with them at the Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi; he held a meeting with the youth at Kololo Air Strip in Kampala, Uganda; and they were also one of the highlights at Notre Dame Cathedral in Bangui where he heard the confessions of some young people and opened the Holy Door to mark the beginning of the Year of Mercy and joined in a Vigil of Prayer. Young people were also particularly enthusiastic in their welcome of Pope Francis throughout his visit.

As he flew back to the Vatican, Pope Francis told journalists that he "loved Africa". He spoke movingly about the way that humans - and the economies they create - can contribute to injustice and severe imbalances in the way the earth's resources. Earlier, at one of his final engagements in Bangui before he boarded his flight, he said: "Together we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, especially violence perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself."

Vatican Radio summarised the Pope in-flight briefing with journalists.