Francis to bring message of peace to Africa

Previous overseas visit: Pope Francis in South Korea
Previous overseas visit: Pope Francis in South Korea

Security will be tight for Pope Francis’ first apostolic visit to Africa beginning on Wednesday (25 November). During his six-day journey that will take him to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic, he will address politicians and religious leaders, visit poor communities, anticipate the Jubilee Year of Mercy and meet members of the Muslim community at a Mosque.

Although this apostolic visit will be Francis' 11th journey abroad, it will be his first ever trip to Africa – even before being elected Pope. However, the continent has been visited by two previous Popes: Blessed Paul VI visited Uganda in 1969 and Saint John Paul II travelled to 42 African nations during his pontificate between 1975 and 1995.

The head of Vatican security, Domenico Giani, is due to visit the Central African Republic and make a final security assessment before the arrival of the Pope who will use an open popemobile there, as he will in Kenya and Uganda. “The pope wants to go to the Central African Republic,” his spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi SJ said on Thursday. “The plan continues to be to go to the Central African Republic. We are all working in that direction. And, like any wise person would do, we are monitoring the situation.”

Significance of visit to Mosque

The Central African Republic has experienced violence since 2013, with the country largely divided between Muslim rebel forces and mainly Christian militias. Fr Lombardi said that suggestions Pope Francis would wear a bulletproof vest during his visit were unfounded:  “It would be odd … to ride around in an open popemobile but wear a bulletproof vest,” he said. “I hadn’t heard this and I don’t believe it.”

Before arriving in the Central African Republic, Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Kenya and Uganda, where he will deliver a message of peace, reconciliation and dialogue. In addition to celebrating Mass, he will address leaders and staff of the United Nations in Kenya, will celebrate the Ugandan martyrs and will open Bangui Cathedral's Holy Door in the CAR capital; this will be seen as a powerful gesture leading up to the Jubilee Year of Mercy in a country torn apart by internal divisions.

Fr Lombardi admitted that Pope Francis’ plan to visit Bangui's Central Mosque for a meeting with the Muslim community might take on more significance globally in the wake of the Paris attacks, but insisted that the visit was on the papal itinerary long before the events of last weekend. He added that the Pope’s message would not change, although how it is perceived might. Speaking after reciting the Angelus prayer on Sunday in St Peter’s Square, Pope Francis described the use of God’s name to try to justify violence and murder as “blasphemy” saying that the Paris attacks were an “unspeakable affront to the dignity of the human person … Such barbarity leaves us dismayed and we ask ourselves how the human heart can plan and carry out such horrible events,” the Pope said.