Pope urges peace in Central Africa Republic

Pope urges peace in Central Africa Republic

BANGUI – Reuters
Pope urges peace in Central Africa Republic

Pope Francis visits an internally displaced people camp at St. Saviour parish in Bangui on November 29, 2015. AFP Photo

Protected by the heaviest security ever seen on his trips, Pope Francis on Nov. 29 preached reconciliation in the divided Central African Republic, a nation racked by bloodshed between Muslims and Christians. 

“Work, pray, do everything for peace,” he said at a camp in the capital Bangui housing nearly 4,000 people displaced by the violence.  “But remember, peace without love, friendship and tolerance is nothing. I hope that all Central Africans can see peace,” he said. 

Before being mobbed by the crowd, he asked them all to shout out repeatedly in their native Songo language: “We are all brothers”. 

Bangui, the capital of the former French colony, has seen a surge in clashes that have left at least 100 people dead since late September, according to Human Rights Watch. 

Pope Francis said he has come to Central African Republic as a “pilgrim of peace, an apostle of hope” and is encouraging the country to disarm and reconcile.

Tens of thousands of cheering people lined the route of his motorcade into the city and the presidential palace for a meeting with interim head of state Catherine Samba-Panza. 

“We absolutely need forgiveness because our hearts have been hardened by the forces of evil. We have lost the sincere love for others and we are henceforth anchored in intolerance, the loss of our values and the disorder that is the result,” she told the pope. 

“We await your messages to free us from our fear of each other, to help us end our conflicts, to change our hearts and put us on the path to serenity, wisdom, brotherhood and peace,” she said. 

Speaking slowly in French, he appealed for a “unity in diversity” that shuns divisions along political or religious lines.

Pope Francis said he hoped upcoming elections in the conflict-wracked Central African Republic would enable the country to peacefully begin a “new chapter” as he arrived in the capital Bangui.

“It is my fervent wish that the various national consultations to be held in coming weeks will enable the country to embark serenely on a new chapter of its history,” he said of next month’s vote, which is shaping up as a major test of the country’s progress in its political transition following a wave of Christian-Muslim violence triggered by a 2013 coup.

The majority Christian nation plunged into tumult when mostly Muslim Seleka rebels briefly seized power in a 2013 coup.

Sectarian violence has plagued the country since and fresh fighting broke out in Bangui two months ago, the worst violence in the capital this year, when the murder of a Muslim man triggered reprisal attacks on a largely Christian neighborhood.