“Those who claim to believe in God must also be men and women of peace,” the Pope said at the Nov. 30 encounter at the Mosque of Koudoukou in the CAR capital Bangui, recalling the long history of peaceful coexistence among people of different religions.
“Christians, Muslims and members of the traditional religions have lived together in peace for many years,” the pontiff said, adding: “We are well aware that the recent events and acts of violence which have shaken your country were not grounded in properly religious motives.”
Pope Francis arrived Sunday in the CAR, the final stop of his tri-nation visit to Africa. It also marks the pontiff’s first time in an active war zone.
“Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters. We must therefore consider ourselves and conduct ourselves as such,” he said.
“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, to revenge and to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself. God is peace, salam.”
Samba-Panza asks forgiveness
The President of the transition in the Central African Republic, Catherine Samba-Panza, has asked for forgiveness before the Pope for the violence committed in the country.
She says all those who contributed in any way in the country’s instability should recognise their mistakes and confess.
“I confess all the evil that has been committed here and I ask for forgiveness from the bottom of my heart,” Samba-Panza said in front of the Pope.
The CAR became embroiled in violence in December 2012 when several bands of mainly Muslim rebel groups formed an alliance, taking the name Seleka.
They left their strongholds in the north of the country and made their way south, seizing power from then-president Francois Bozize.
Since then, some 6,000 people have died in the conflict, with several thousands more displaced.
The country will hold both presidential and parliamentary elections Dec. 27, after they were postponed in October due to violence and instability.
Samba-Panza, who has so far struggled to keep peace, will not be a candidate.
Pope Francis went forward with the scheduled visit to the Koudoukou mosque despite security concerns.
These fears were exacerbated by reports Saturday of three young people being killed in a nearby neighborhood, although it was later announced that no one died, and that the youths had been found.
The Pope called for the CAR, which is “situated in the heart of Africa,” to be a place of welcome for everyone – regardless of ethnicity, political affiliation, or religion – which in turn will encourage the rest of the continent to follow in its footsteps.
Pope Francis concluded his address by inviting those present 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.”
St. John Paul II was the last pontiff to visit CAR when he stopped there briefly in 1985 as part of a larger trip to Togo, the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Zaire and Kenya.
Catholic News Agency