POPE FRANCIS IN AFRICA, Sarah-Leah Pimentel •
Pope Francis’s message in the Central African Republic (CAR) was a call to peace and encouragement for the people of this war torn country to find healing and reconciliation.
This leg of the Pope Francis’ trip was possibly the most dangerous. In a country reeling from various waves of violence between the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels and the predominately Christian anti-balaka vigilante groups, there were real fears that Pope Francis could be targeted. To protect him, UN troops, 900 members of a French military contingent and the national police force were deployed to the capital, Bangui, according to CAR newspaper Journal de Bangui.
A call for peaceful elections
The Holy Father met with both the civilian authorities and the Muslim community. To both, he sent a strong message of peace, as the country prepares for elections on 27 December.
He told President Catherine Samba-Panza and the entire diplomatic corps that he had come as a “pilgrim of peace and an apostle of hope.” He commended Samba-Panza for her efforts to steer the country towards peace after a bloody conflict in 2014 and expressed his “fervent wish” that the elections “will enable the country to embark serenely on a new chapter of its history.”
He urged the people of CAR to work towards unity, dignity and labour. Unity, he said, is “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.” Dignity means ensuring that each person is able to attain their “human, cultural, economic and social potential,” and this can be achieved by creating working conditions that will allow each person to improve their lives and those of their families.
Recognition for the work of the peacekeepers
Finally, Pope Francis, thanked the diplomatic and peacekeeping missions in the country and encouraged them to continue working in solidarity in the areas of “reconciliation, disarmament, peacekeeping, health care and the cultivation of a sound administration at all levels.”
“Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters”
In his meeting with the country’s Muslim leaders, Pope Francis conveyed a similar message, saying that “Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters” and that we “must therefore consider ourselves and conduct ourselves as such.” He acknowledged that CAR’s problems cannot be simplified to just religion and therefore called on all “to remain united in working for an end to every act which, from whatever side, disfigures the Face of God.”
The Pontiff delivered a strong message of peace, saying “together, we must say no to hatred, no to revenge and no to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself.”
The pope once again expressed his wish that next month’s elections will “provide the country with leaders capable of bringing Central Africans together, thus becoming symbols of national unity rather than merely representatives of one or another faction.”
Complete text of Pope Francis’ message to the CAR authorities and diplomatic corps
Madam Interim Head of State,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Representatives of International Organizations,
My Brother Bishops,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am happy to be here with you. I would first like to express my appreciation for your warm hospitality and to thank Madam Interim Head of State for her kind words of welcome. In this place, which is in some sense the home of all Central Africans, I am pleased to express, through you and the other authorities of the country present, my affection and spiritual closeness to all your fellow citizens. I would like also to greet the members of the Diplomatic Corps and the representatives of the International Organizations, whose work recalls the ideal of solidarity and cooperation which needs to be cultivated between peoples and nations.
As the Central African Republic progressively moves, in spite of difficulties, towards the normalization of its social and political life, I come to this land for the first time, following my predecessor Saint John Paul II. I come as a pilgrim of peace and an apostle of hope. For this reason, I express my appreciation of the efforts made by the different national and international authorities, beginning with Madam Interim Head of State, to guide the country to this point. It is my fervent wish that the various national consultations to be held in coming weeks will enable the country to embark serenely on new chapter of its history.
To brighten the horizon, there is the motto of the Central African Republic, which translates the hope of pioneers and the dream of the founding fathers: Unity-Dignity-Labour. Today, more than ever, this trilogy expresses the aspirations of each Central African. Consequently, it is a sure compass for the authorities called to guide the destiny of the country. Unity, dignity, labour! Three very significant words, each of which represents as much a building project as a unending programme, something to be ceaselessly crafted.
First unity. This, we know, is a cardinal value for the harmony of peoples. 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. Unity, on the contrary, calls for creating and promoting a synthesis of the richness which each person has to offer. Unity in diversity is a constant challenge, one which demands creativity, generosity, self-sacrifice and respect for others.
Then, dignity. This moral value is rightly synonymous with the honesty, loyalty, graciousness and honour which characterize men and women conscious of their rights and duties, and which lead them to mutual respect. Each person has dignity. I was interested to learn that Central Africa is the country of the “Zo kwe zo”, the country where everybody is somebody. Everything must be done to protect the status and dignity of the human person. Those who have the means to enjoy a decent life, rather than being concerned with privileges, must seek to help those poorer than themselves to attain dignified living conditions, particularly through the development of their human, cultural, economic and social potential. Consequently, access to education and to health care, the fight against malnutrition and efforts to ensure decent housing for everyone must be at the forefront of a development concerned for human dignity. In effect, our human dignity is expressed by our working for the dignity of our fellow man.
Finally, labour. It is by working that you are able to improve the lives of your families. Saint Paul tells us that “children ought not to lay up for their parents, but parents for their children” (2 Cor 12:14). The work of parents expresses their love for their children. And you again, Central Africans, can improve this marvellous land by wisely exploiting its many resources. Your country is located in a region considered to be one of the two lungs of mankind on account of its exceptionally rich biodiversity. In this regard, echoing my Encyclical Laudato Si’, I would like particularly to draw the attention of everyone, citizens and national leaders, international partners and multinational societies, to their grave responsibility in making use of environmental resources, in development decisions and projects which in any way affect the entire planet. The work of building a prosperous society must be a cooperative effort. The wisdom of your people has long understood this truth, as seen in the proverb: “The ants are little, but since they are so many, they can bring their hoard home”.
It is no doubt superfluous to underline the capital importance of upright conduct and administration on the part of public authorities. They must be the first to embody consistently the values of unity, dignity and labour, serving as models for their compatriots.
The history of the evangelization of this land and the sociopolitical history of this country attest to the commitment of the Church in promoting the values of unity, dignity and labour. In recalling the pioneers of evangelization in the Central African Republic, I greet my brother bishops, who now carry on this work. With them, I express once more the readiness of the local Church to contribute even more to the promotion of the common good, particularly by working for peace and reconciliation. Working for peace and reconciliation. I do not doubt that the Central African authorities, present and future, will work tirelessly to ensure that the Church enjoys favourable conditions for the fulfilment of her spiritual mission. In this way she will be able to contribute increasingly to “promoting the good of every man and of the whole man” (Populorum Progressio, 14), to use the felicitous expression of my predecessor, Blessed Paul VI, who fifty years ago was the first Pope of modern times to come to Africa, to encourage and confirm the continent in goodness at the dawn of a new age.
For my part, I express my appreciation for the efforts made by the international community, represented here by the Diplomatic Corps and the members of the various Missions of the International Organizations. I heartily encourage them to continue along the path of solidarity, in the hope that their commitment, together with the activity of the Central African authorities, will help the country to advance, especially in the areas of reconciliation, disarmament, peacekeeping, health care and the cultivation of a sound administration at all levels.
To conclude, I would like to express once more my joy to visit this marvellous country, located in the heart of Africa, home to a people profoundly religious and blessed with so such natural and cultural richness. Here I see a country filled with God’s gifts! May the Central African people, its leaders and its partners, always appreciate the value of these gifts by working ceaselessly for unity, human dignity and a peace based on justice. May God bless you all! Thank you.
Complete text of Pope Francis’ message to the Muslim community
Dear Muslim friends, leaders and followers of Islam,
It is a great joy for me to be with you and I thank you for your warm welcome. In a particular way I thank Imam Tidiani Moussa Naibi for his kind words of greeting. My Pastoral Visit to the Central African Republic would not be complete if it did not include this encounter with the Muslim community.
Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters. We must therefore consider ourselves and conduct ourselves as such. We are well aware that the recent events and acts of violence which have shaken your country were not grounded in properly religious motives. Those who claim to believe in God must also be men and women of peace. Christians, Muslims and members of the traditional religions have lived together in peace for many years. They ought, therefore, to remain united in working for an end to every act which, from whatever side, disfigures the Face of God and whose ultimate aim is to defend particular interests by any and all means, to the detriment of the common good. Together, we must say no to hatred, no to revenge and no to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself. God is peace, God salam.
In these dramatic times, Christian and Muslim leaders have sought to rise to the challenges of the moment. They have played an important role in re-establishing harmony and fraternity among all. I would like express my gratitude and appreciation for this. We can also call to mind the many acts of solidarity which Christians and Muslims have shown with regard to their fellow citizens of other religious confessions, by welcoming them and defending them during this latest crisis in your country, as well as in other parts of the world.
We cannot fail to express hope that the forthcoming national consultations will provide the country with leaders capable of bringing Central Africans together, thus becoming symbols of national unity rather than merely representatives of one or another faction. I strongly urge you to make your country a welcoming home for all its children, regardless of their ethnic origin, political affiliation or religious confession. The Central African Republic, situated in the heart of Africa, with the cooperation of all her sons and daughters, will then prove a stimulus in this regard to the entire continent. It will prove a positive influence and help extinguish the smouldering tensions which prevent Africans from benefitting from that development which they deserve and to which they have a right.
Dear friends, dear brothers, I invite you to pray and work for reconciliation, fraternity and solidarity among all people, without forgetting those who have suffered the most as a result of recent events.
May God bless you and protect you! Salam alaikum!
Back in Rome
Pope Francis just arrived at Rome’s St. Mary Major to pray in thanksgiving to Our Lady for a safe trip to Africa!