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3B-POPE-CAR-REFUGEES

Pope Francis calls for focus on justice, love, mercy and peace

Pope Francis issued an appeal from the altar of Bangui’s cathedral for all the fighting factions in Central African Republic (CRA) and elsewhere to lay down their weapons and instead ‘arm yourselves with justice, love, mercy and authentic peace.’

The 26-hour visit to the CRA’s capital Bangui was the first time the Pope has visited an active war zone.

Bangui is awash in weapons as a result of more than two years of sectarian violence between Christian and Muslim militants that has forced more than 1 million people to flee their homes.

In his first Mass on Sunday after his arrival, the Pope said that Christians had as their primary vocation love for their enemy ‘which protects against the temptation of revenge and against the spiral of unending retaliation.’

He said priests and nuns, in particular ‘must be first of all artisans of pardon, specialists of reconciliation, experts in mercy.’

The Holy Father also visited a mosque under siege from armed Christian militias in Bangui, delivering a message of peace and reconciliation in a show of solidarity. As armed UN peacekeepers were positioned on the mosque’s minarets and a helicopter hovered overhead, he told several hundred men inside that ‘Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters.’

“Together, we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself. God is peace. Salaam,” he added, using the Arabic word for peace.

The Holy Father said his visit to CAR ‘would not be complete if it did not include this encounter with the Muslim community.’

At a prayer vigil on Sunday evening, he called on the country’s young people to follow a ‘path of resistance’ in the face of war, hate and division.

“To flee from challenges is never a solution,” he said. “Resistance is needed. To have the courage of resistance and of fighting for good. One who escapes doesn’t have the courage to give life.”

The Holy Father also met with representatives of various evangelical communities in Africa, as he visited the Bangui Evangelical School of Theology on Sunday. In his address he stressed that ‘the lack of unity among Christians is a scandal, above all because it is contrary to God’s will’ It is also a scandal, he said, ‘when we consider the hatred and violence which are tearing humanity apart.’

“For all too long, your people have experienced troubles and violence, resulting in great suffering,” he said. “This makes the proclamation of the Gospel all the more necessary and urgent. For it is Christ’s own flesh which suffers in His dearest sons and daughters: the poorest of his people, the infirm, the elderly, the abandoned, children without parents or left to themselves without guidance and education. There are also those who have been scarred in soul or body by hatred and violence, those whom war has deprived of everything: work, home and loved ones.

“God makes no distinctions between those who suffer. I have often called this the ecumenism of blood. All our communities suffer indiscriminately as a result of injustice and the blind hatred unleashed by the devil.”

The Pope’s visit to Bangui was kept under constant review by Vatican security officials. It ended the third-leg of his three-country African visit.

—Reports on Papal visit in Kenya, Uganda in the December 4 edition print of the SCO, available in parishes.

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