Pope visits conflict zone in Central African Republic
Pope Francis has become the first Pontiff in recent history to visit a conflict zone when he arrived in the Central African Republic on Sunday.
The nation has been embroiled in a civil war between a Muslim minority and a Christian majority since March, 2013.
Arriving in the capital, Bangui, Francis declared himself a “pilgrim of peace and an apostle of hope”.
The Pope was greeted upon his arrival with heavy security presence.
United Nations soldiers carrying rifles were alongside plainclothes officers, and what appeared to be members of the Vatican detail wearing heavy protective vests.
UN tanks and pickup trucks also lined the streets near crowds waiting for the Pope, with mounted heavy guns manned by soldiers.
Helicopters flew overhead.
The Pope visited Koudoukou mosque in Bangui on Monday and met local Muslim leaders in an area of the city regarded as dangerous.
Residents of that area, known as PK5, were unable to leave it on Sunday because of armed Christian militia fighters surroundings its perimeter.
Speaking to a crowd at the mosque, Francis said Muslims and Christians are brothers, and must live as such.
At the CAR presidential palace on Sunday, Francis called for unity and to avoid “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”.
Francis said he hoped elections scheduled for the CAR would herald a new chapter in its history.
On Sunday, he next went to the Saint Saveur refugee camp, home to 3700 people, which is known for high rates of malaria and for its appalling hygiene conditions.
Residents sang and danced for the Pontiff and expressed hopes that he would act as a mediator to quell the conflict.
“I wish for you and all Central Africans a great peace . . . whatever may be your ethnicity, your religion, your social status,” Francis told the crowd.
The Pope then led them in a chant of “We are all brothers”.
The visit to the CAR is the final leg of a three nation African journey for the Pope.
Thanks to New Zealand’s CATHNEWS for this summary of news of the visit of Pope Francis to the Central African Republic.
This ecumenical Pope is certainly straying beyond the comfort zones in his determination to make Christ’s plea for peace known among the nations during this Advent Season. In the Footsteps of his illustriious predecessor, Saint Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis is willing to visit Muslims and other faith communities in a situation of some threat of personal danger.
The ‘Little Poor Man’ of Assisi is known to have visited a Caliph in the midst of a war zone in his own day – at a time when Muslims and Christians were mutually opposed to one another, a situation not unlike that obtaining at the present time in parts of Africa, the Middle East, and other places in the world. Hearing Francis’ plea for peaceful co-existence, the Caliph was impressed – to the extent of asking Francis to stay and share a meal with him, then sending him away without suffering the harm that might otherwise have been thought to be a natural consequence of this encounter.
Yes, Pope Francis has all the panoply of the united Nations force to accompany his mission into the camp of ‘The Enemy’; but he also has to power of the Triune God he worships to protect him – much like Daniel of the Old Testament, whose faith in God saved him from the the perils of the lions’ den.
What the Pope is advocating may seem almost foolhardy – a programme of peaceful discussion with an implacable enemy. But surely he is setting a very Christ-like example of peaceful negotiation and tolerance that we Christians might well employ if we really want to secure co-existence with the adherents of other religious communities in our world.
“Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit”, says the Lord
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand