Pope appeals for unity and peace in Africa

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

Pope Francis is due to meet Muslim leaders in the Central African Republic (CAR) today, the final day of his apostolic visit to Africa. He is also scheduled to visit a mosque in the Muslim enclave in the capital Bangui, known as PK5, before concluding his visit with a final Mass.

During his visit to the CAR, Pope Francis has called for unity in the country that has been torn by strife between Christians and Muslims, urging its citizens to "avoid the temptation of fear of others".

The 78-year-old Argentinian pontiff arrived in the CAR yesterday morning on the last leg of a six-day African tour which also included Kenya and Uganda. He was greeted on his arrival at the airport by Muslim as well as Catholic representatives. El Adji Tchakpabrede, a representative of the country's Islamic community, said: "The Holy Father has not come to Central Africa for the Catholics, but for Central Africans. It is a good sign of a reconciliation between Muslims and Central Africans.”

In a speech to CAR dignitaries which included interim President Catherine Samba-Panza, Pope Francis said that unity "is to be lived and built up on the basis of the marvellous diversity of our environment, avoiding the temptation of fear of others, of the unfamiliar, of what is not part of our ethnic group, our political views or our religious confession.”

The acting president asked for "forgiveness" from Pope Francis over the sectarian violence that has gripped the country over the past two years and praised the Pope for his visit despite security fears.

"Central Africans have inflicted unspeakable suffering on other Central Africans. And for that, the sons and daughters of this country must recognise  their faults and ask for forgiveness ... that your blessing will transform into a catalyst for the reconstruction of this country," she said.

Arm yourselves with love and mercy

Later, at Notre Dame Cathedral in Bangui, Pope Francis opened the Holy Door to mark the beginning of the Year of Mercy, and appealed for peace in the CAR: “To all those who make unjust use of the weapons of this world, I make this appeal: lay down these instruments of death!” he said in his homily. “Arm yourselves instead with righteousness, with love and mercy, the authentic guarantors of peace. As followers of Christ, dear priests, religious and lay pastoral workers, here in this country, with its suggestive name, situated in the heart of Africa and called to discover the Lord as the true centre of all that is good, your vocation is to incarnate the very heart of God in the midst of your fellow citizens.”

The Pope also visited the Saint Sauveur camp for displaced people in Bangui where he was greeted by singing and dancing. As UN troops, police and scouts patrolled inside the camp and around its perimeter, Francis greeted and shook hands with many people, including many young children.

“I wish for you and all Central Africans a great peace... whatever may be your ethnicity, your religion, your social status,” Pope Francis told the crowd, before leading them in a chant of “We are all brothers”.