Pope Francis wrapped up his six-day trip to Africa in the war-torn Central Africa Republic on Monday by warning that religious conflicts are spawning civil war, terrorism and suffering throughout the continent.
“Together we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, especially violence perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself,” the pope said in Bangui, the capital.
Every day gunfire and grenades ring out across the capital and countrywide, hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes into enclaves that are either Christian or Muslim.
Under heavy security, the pope celebrated Mass at a stadium in Bangui and visited the Koudoukou mosque in a violence-riddled neighborhood. Francis spoke about the violence between Christians and Muslims that erupted when rebels ousted the Central African Republic’s president three years ago — and continues to divide the country. Around 6,000 have died in the fighting, and thousands have been displaced.
Despite the security risks, the pope traveled in an open-air vehicle and received an exuberant welcome. “I want to thank him because he has preached peace,” said Nasra Yamashia, a mother of five who lives in the St. Joseph Mukasa refugee camp outside Bangui.
At the Grand Mosque in the notoriously dangerous PK5 neighbourhood, a large group of Vatican police, all wearing pale blue polo shirts, talked with the Bishop, the Imam and the Papal Nuncio, or Pope’s ambassador to the CAR.
The religious leaders don’t need convincing, but that doesn’t stop the attacks, and nor did it prevent a gun battle from breaking out just outside the mosque as discussions about the Pope’s security arrangements were coming to a close.