Pope Francis calls for reconciliation in conflict-hit CAR
Protected by the heaviest security ever seen on his trips, Pope Francis on Sunday (November 29) preached reconciliation in the divided Central African Republic, a nation racked by bloodshed between Muslims and Christians.
Special security forces wearing patches of the yellow and white colours of the Vatican flag were on hand to help his normal Vatican security retinue.
Leading a prayer service at the presidential palace, the pontiff called for unity in the war-torn country.
“This, we know, is a cardinal value for the harmony of peoples,” he said slowly, in French. “It 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.”
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.
France, which has around 900 soldiers deployed in the country, warned the Vatican this month that the visit could be risky but the pope was determined to go to the majority Christian nation.
Francis was driven in to the presidential palace, for much of the way in an open popemobile, and then to a camp housing nearly 4,000 people displaced by the violence.
One man residing in the camp, Christian Londoumon, said the pontiff’s visit brought a “sense of relief.”
“I’m thankful for the love that the pope brings us, but also for the peace. We’re very happy about his visit,” he said.
France sent in soldiers in 2013 in an attempt to stem the bloodshed. Muslims and Christians have since split into segregated communities. Tens of thousands of Muslims have fled to the far north, creating a de facto partition.
About 80 percent of the impoverished country’s population is Christian, 15 percent is Muslim and 5 percent animist.
Central African Republic’s government is deploying around 500 police and gendarmes to secure the visit. More than 3,000 peacekeepers from the MINUSCA U.N. mission will also be deployed and French troops will be on alert as well.
Bangui is the final leg of the pope’s first African trip that has already taken him to Kenya and Uganda.