On his first trip to Africa, Pope Francis visited Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic (CAR). Though these three countries all have predominantly Christian populations—Kenya approximately 80%, Uganda 85% and CAR 76% – and Muslim population of around 10%, they are all still facing significant religious tensions. Decades of peaceful cohabitation by local religious communities for years have been shattered by recent tensions due largely to religious intolerance exacerbated by the influence of jihadist groups.
In a message issued ahead of his trip, the Pope described himself as a messenger of peace to the continent.
The November 25-30 visit came just days after a terrorist attack at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako (Mali) that claimed 22 lives, including those of the two attackers. Two jihadist groups, the Massina Liberation Front and Al Mourabitoun, claimed responsibility for the attack.
‘‘We are living at a time when religious believers and persons of good will everywhere are called to foster mutual understanding and respect, and to support each other as members of our one human family. For all of us are God’s children,” said Pope Francis.
Attacks have recently increased in these three nations where Muslims and Christians have had a long history of living together peacefully.
Al-Shabab’s insurgency has fueled sectarian violence in northeastern Kenya, along the Somali border; focusing their attacks against Christians and their properties. The Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa is now considered a stronghold for Islamist groups that often threaten even the local Muslim clerics, whom they accuse of being ‘moderate’. In Uganda, the Pope honored the memory of the 23 Anglican and 22 Catholic Ugandan martyrs, killed for their faith on the orders of King Mwanga II between 1885 and 1887. In the Central African Republic, the Pope’s visit focused on facilitating religious dialogue in a country torn apart by sectarian violence for more than two years.
“I will come to you as a messenger of peace,” he said, in a pre-visit message, expressing a belief that a “peaceful co-existence” is possible. “Your dear country has for too long been affected by a violent situation and by insecurity, of which many of you have been innocent victims,” the Pope added.
“The goal of my visit is, above all, to bring you, in the Name of Christ, the comfort of consolation and hope. I hope with all my heart that my visit may contribute, in one way or another, to alleviate your wounds and to favor conditions for a better, more serene future for Central Africa and all its inhabitants.”
During his visit to CAR, Pope Francis met with the three top religious leaders of the country: Rev. Nicolas Guérékoyamé-Gbangou (the President of CAR’s Evangelical Alliance), Monsignor Dieudonné Nzapalainga (the Catholic Archbishop of Bangui), and the person who leads prayers in a mosque. More Oumar Kobine Layama (the President of CAR’s Islamic Council). In the midst of CAR’s violence, the three clerics, named by TIME Magazine among the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2014, formed a united ‘platform’ to promote peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims. Their message is that violence in CAR is not primarily a religious conflict; instead, the root of the conflict lies in the struggle for political power.
In addition to meeting the three top religious leaders, the Pope visited thousands of Internally Displaced Persons at Mpoko Camp, one of the largest IDP camps next to the airport. Pope Francis also visited a mosque in PK5, the main Muslim enclave, considered by many in Bangui as a stronghold of Séléka rebels, and a ‘no-go zone’ for all non-Muslims.
Source: World Watch Monitor
Father, we pray that the violence will be quelled in Kenya, Uganda and CAR. But even more tragic is the violence of Your enemy, Satan, against Christ and His church, and so we pray that through the atoning work of Christ, even the terrorists will be turned from their evil darkness into the light of Jesus. Among Your people, we pray that You will comfort those who grieve the loss of loved ones, heal those who have been injured in body and soul and we pray that You will cast out all fear with Your loving presence. Strengthen those who remain and continue to build Your church. In the Name of Jesus, the Light of the World, Amen.