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Pope prays for victims of deadly attacks in Nigeria and Central African Republic

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis called for an end to violence against Christians following deadly attacks in two African countries. Read more »

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At Bangui mosque and Mass, pope says ‘God is peace, salam’

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Catholic News Service

BANGUI, Central African Republic — Pope Francis ended his visit to the violence-torn Central African Republic with cries for peace and pleas for a mercy that seeks and grants forgiveness.

In a country where political and ethnic rivalries also have split the population along religious lines, Pope Francis began Nov. 30 with a visit to the Koudoukou mosque in Bangui.

Pope Francis sits next to Imam Tidiani Moussa Naibi during a meeting with the Muslim community at the Koudoukou mosque in Bangui, Central African Republic, Nov. 30. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis sits next to Imam Tidiani Moussa Naibi during a meeting with the Muslim community at the Koudoukou mosque in Bangui, Central African Republic, Nov. 30. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

After two years of civil war, much of the recurrent violence in the country involves the murder of a Christian or a Muslim, then retaliations from members of the other community. Most areas of Bangui are divided into Christian or Muslim neighborhoods with “buffer zones” between them patrolled by U.N. peacekeepers.

“God is peace, ‘salam,’” the pope said in his speech at the mosque, where armed U.N. peacekeepers monitored the crowd outside from each of the three minarets.

“Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters,” created by the same God, he said, and they must act like it.

“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,” Pope Francis insisted.

“The recent events and acts of violence which have shaken your country were not grounded in properly religious motives,” he said, but some have used God’s name as an excuse for their actions, which “disfigures the face of God.”

Pope Francis prayed that the elections scheduled for Dec. 27 would be a symbol and victory of national unity rather than being seen as the victory of one particular faction.

“Make your country a welcoming home for all its children, regardless of their ethnic origin, political affiliation or religious confession,” the pope urged the people.

Tidiani Moussa Naibi, the imam of the mosque, assured the pope that Central African Christians and Muslims know that they are brothers and sisters. “Trouble mongers could delay the completion of a particular project of common interest or compromise for a time a particular activity, but never, ‘inshallah,’ (God willing) can they destroy the bonds of brotherhood that unite our communities so solidly.”

After the speeches, Pope Francis asked the imam to show him the mihrab, which indicates the direction of Mecca, the direction Muslims face when praying. The pope and imam stood in front of it for several moments of silence.

The Catholic archbishop of Bangui, the president of the country’s evangelical Christian alliance and another imam have been leading a very public campaign of education and cooperation to end the violence. The three were present at the mosque for the pope’s visit.

Afterward, the pope visited the camp for displaced people that has sprouted around the mosque, just as other camps have mushroomed around the city’s Catholic parishes.

To show just how special the visit was, Pope Francis personally opened the Holy Door at Bangui’s cathedral Nov. 29, nine days before the official opening of the Year of Mercy.

The last event on the pope’s schedule was a Mass in a sports stadium, where he urged the Catholic community to participate in the Year of Mercy by moving forward courageously toward peace and reconciliation.

The country’s bishops chose “Cross to the Other Side” as the theme for the pope’s visit, and he told people in the stadium that even though the elections are only four weeks away, they are still only in midstream in their journey to the side of peace.

All Christians, he said, need to break the habits of sin and division, which are “ever ready to rise up again at the prompting of the devil. How often this happens in our world and in these times of conflict, hate and war! How easy it is to be led into selfishness, distrust, violence, destructiveness, vengeance, indifference to and exploitation of those who are most vulnerable.”

Pope Francis urged the country’s Catholics to hold fast to their faith, sharing it with all they meet through words and, especially, gestures of care, peace and reconciliation. At the end of Mass, the pope gave a special greeting”of joy and fraternity” to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, wishing him — “from the heart of Africa” — a happy feast of St. Andrew.

“I ask the Lord to bless our sister churches,” he said.The evening before, after celebrating Mass with priests, religious and catechists, the pope joined the young people who had watched the liturgy from outside the cathedral. They were holding a prayer vigil into the night, with special permission to stay outside the cathedral beyond the 8 p.m. curfew in the violence-torn city.

The centerpiece of the event, though, was the sacrament of confession, which Pope Francis personally administered to five youths.

He urged the young people to pray often, to forgive those who hurt them and to be courageous enough to stay in their country and work for peace.

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Pope in Bangui: Open the doors of mercy, counter violence with love

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Catholic News Service
BANGUI, Central African Republic (CNS) — Put down the weapons of war and work for justice, Pope Francis urged the people of the Central African Republic.
“Even when the powers of hell are unleashed, Christians must rise to the summons, their heads held high, and be ready to brave blows in this battle over which God will have the last word. And that word will be love and peace,” the pope said in an evening homily Nov. 29 at Bangui’s cathedral. Read more »

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Pope calls for acts of kindness in broken world, condemns Mali attacks

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Show kindness, understanding and mercy in today’s broken and wounded world, Pope Francis said.

Members of the Carabinieri, the Italian military police force, stand guard as people leave Pope Francis' Angelus blessing in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Nov. 22. Security at the Vatican has been ramped up following the Nov. 13 terrorist attack in Paris. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Members of the Carabinieri, the Italian military police force, stand guard as people leave Pope Francis’ Angelus blessing in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Nov. 22. Security at the Vatican has been ramped up following the Nov. 13 terrorist attack in Paris. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“Before so many lacerations in the world and too many wounds on the flesh of humanity, let us ask the Virgin Mary to support us in our commitment to imitate Jesus, our king, making his kingdom present with gestures of tenderness, understanding and mercy,” he said Nov. 22, the feast of Christ the King, during his Sunday Angelus address.

The pope’s words came the same day he had a telegram sent to the people of Mali, expressing his condolences and spiritual closeness to those affected by the latest deadly attacks there. At least 22 people were killed Nov. 20 when gunmen raided a luxury hotel in Bamako and held 170 people hostage.

The telegram, sent on the pope’s behalf by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said the pope strongly condemned and was “appalled by this senseless violence.”

“The pope implores God for the conversion of hearts and the gift of peace and invokes an abundance of divine blessings on all those affected by this tragedy,” said the telegram, which was sent to Archbishop Jean Zerbo of Bamako.

At the end of the midday Angelus appointment in St. Peter’s Square, the pope also asked people pray for his Nov. 25-30 visit to Kenya, Uganda and Central African Republic.

He prayed the trip, his first to Africa, would be “a sign of closeness and love. Let us together ask Our Lady to bless these beloved lands, so that there would be peace and prosperity.”

The pope also sent a video message to the people of Kenya and Uganda, saying he was coming as “a minister of the Gospel, to proclaim the love of Jesus Christ and his message of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace.” He said he hoped the trip would be “a source of hope and encouragement to all.”

“My visit is meant to confirm the Catholic community in its worship of God and its witness to the Gospel, which teaches the dignity of every man and woman and commands us to open our hearts to others, especially the poor and those in need,” he said in the message, sent Nov. 23.

He encouraged all people, not just Catholics, “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”

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Pope to visit Africa Nov. 25-30, including Central African Republic

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Despite continued instability and outbreaks of violence in the Central African Republic, the Vatican announced Pope Francis will spend about 33 hours in the country during a Nov. 25-30 visit to Africa.

An internally displaced man stands in front of his makeshift house at a camp in Bambari, Central African Republic, Oct. 17. Despite ongoing violence in the African nation, Pope Francis said he hopes to be able to visit the country in late November and to anticipate the Year of Mercy by opening the Holy Door of the cathedral in Bangui, the nation's capital. (CNS photo/Goran Tomasevic, Reuters)

An internally displaced man stands in front of his makeshift house at a camp in Bambari, Central African Republic, Oct. 17. Despite ongoing violence in the African nation, Pope Francis said he hopes to be able to visit the country in late November and to anticipate the Year of Mercy by opening the Holy Door of the cathedral in Bangui, the nation’s capital. (CNS photo/Goran Tomasevic, Reuters)

Releasing the schedule for the trip, the Vatican said that while the pope is in the Central African Republic Nov. 29-30, he will visit a refugee camp, hold a meeting with evangelical Christians and visit a mosque in Bangui, the nation’s capital.

The country has known little peace or development in its 55 years of independence. In March 2013, a rebel movement, Seleka, led by Arab-speaking Islamists, suspended the nation’s constitution. French and African peacekeepers were deployed in January 2014 and the rebels were driven out of the capital.

The National Reconciliation Forum, convened by the country’s transitional parliament in May, has been trying to bring Seleka and its Christian-dominated rival, Anti-Balaka, into talks and preparations for elections that originally were scheduled for Oct. 18. The vote, however, was postponed after violence broke out again in late September.

Kenya is the first stop on Pope Francis’ first visit to Africa as pope; there, too, he will meet with ecumenical and interreligious leaders, but he also will visit the Kangemi slum on the outskirts of Nairobi.

Traveling to Uganda Nov. 27, the pope will honor 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.

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Pope Francis to visit Africa in November

By

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Despite continued instability and outbreaks of violence in the Central African Republic, the Vatican announced Pope Francis will spend about 33 hours in the country during a Nov. 25-30 visit to Africa.

Releasing the schedule for the trip, the Vatican said that while the pope is in the Central African Republic Nov. 29-30, he will visit a refugee camp, hold a meeting with evangelical Christians and visit a mosque in Bangui, the nation’s capital.

The country has known little peace or development in its 55 years of independence. In March 2013, a rebel movement, Seleka, led by Arab-speaking Islamists, suspended the nation’s constitution. French and African peacekeepers were deployed in January 2014 and the rebels were driven out of the capital.

The National Reconciliation Forum, convened by the country’s transitional parliament in May, has been trying to bring Seleka and its Christian-dominated rival, Anti-Balaka, into talks and preparations for elections that originally were scheduled for Oct. 18. The vote, however, was postponed after violence broke out again in late September.

Kenya is the first stop on Pope Francis’ first visit to Africa as pope; there, too, he will meet with ecumenical and interreligious leaders, but he also will visit the Kangemi slum on the outskirts of Nairobi.

Traveling to Uganda Nov. 27, the pope will honor 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.

 

 

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Churches inundated as Christian-Muslim violence continues in Central African Republic

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Catholic News Service

 

Church leaders in the Central African Republic report an increasing humanitarian crisis and warn that international forces, which have been in their country a month, had not secured law and order.

“The situation is very chaotic and worsening all the time,” said Msgr. Cyriaque Gbate Doumalo, secretary-general of the Catholic bishops’ conference.

A woman displaced by religious violence braids the hair of her daughter at a hospital in Bossangao, Central African Republic, Jan. 1. Central African Republic church leaders are urging “more effective action” to control worsening violence, as Christians flee revenge attacks by Muslim rebels. (CNS photo/Andreea Campeanu, Reuters)

“All our churches and parishes are inundated with displaced people, and some were unable to celebrate Christmas as a result. Whole districts of Bangui are deserted, while even those in the relative safety of Catholic centers are living in total fear,” he told Catholic News Service.

Clashes continued in the capital between rival Christian and Muslim armed groups, despite the Dec. 8 arrival of 1,600 French paratroopers under a U.N. mandate.

Msgr. Doumalo told CNS Jan. 2 that Bangui Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga had paid a morning visit to Bangui airport, where the church’s Caritas charity was helping distribute food and shelter to more than 100,000 refugees.

However, he added that 12,000 more displaced civilians had sought refuge in Bangui’s major seminary, while the bishops’ conference secretariat was sheltering 600 people, half of them children. He said many children had been abandoned when their parents were killed or fled and were now without food and clothing and “at the mercy of armed groups.”

In a Dec. 30 report, UNICEF said attacks on children in Bangui had “sunk to a new vicious low,” adding that two had been beheaded in the violence.

“More and more children are being recruited into armed groups, and they are also being directly targeted in atrocious revenge attacks,” Souleymane Diabate, UNICEF’s representative to Central African Republic, confirmed in the report.

“Targeted attacks against children are a violation of international humanitarian and human rights law and must stop immediately. Concrete action is needed now to prevent violence against children,” the report said.

Bishop Nestor-Desire Nongo Aziagbia of Bossangoa said conditions in the western provinces had “marginally improved” but cautioned that peace initiatives were being disrupted by “a few mostly young individuals.” In a Christmas message, the bishop said the number of displaced seeking refuge at his Bossangoa residence had risen to almost 50,000.

“Both the Muslim and Christian communities are fearful of each other,” Bishop Nongo told CNS by telephone Jan. 2. “But the two sides are at least living separately and can ensure their security more easily. In Bangui, the various communities are mixed together and heavily infiltrated by fighters from both sides.”

French and African troops have attempted to disarm militants from the rebel Seleka movement, after communal fighting in Bangui during December left around 1,000 dead, and 370,000, half the city’s population, displaced. Around 785,000 people have been displaced within the country since violence erupted in December 2012, according to the U.N.

Seleka is composed partly of Arab-speaking Islamists from neighboring Chad and Sudan, who suspended the constitution after ousting President Francois Bozize last March.

A mostly Christian pro-Bozize militia, Anti-Balaka, increased revenge attacks on suspected Seleka sympathizers in Bozize’s northwestern home region.

Msgr. Doumalo said most Seleka and Anti-Balaka fighters were wearing civilian clothes, making them hard to identify.

Bishop Nongo said some Bossangoa inhabitants had obtained food from local farms, but added that Christian women were still being routinely threatened and robbed by armed thugs when visiting shops in Muslim areas.

“We need a bigger peacekeeping mission here; the present force is plainly unable to cope or play an effective role,” the bishop told CNS. “Without this, things are certain to get difficult. Unless the huge quantities of guns now in popular circulation are collected, people will continue killing each other.”

In mid-November, Bishop Nongo traveled to Washington to testify before the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations, and he told CNS he was counting on the U.S. government to back the extension of a December U.N. resolution authorizing peacekeeping forces.

Bishop Nongo said the bishops’ conference would issue a fresh peace appeal in mid-January, although most members would be unable to attend a planned Jan. 6-12 plenary in Bangui.

Central African Republic, population 4.4 million, is about 85 percent Christian and 12 percent Muslim.

 

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Central African churchmen hope U.N. troops settle tense situation

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Catholic News Service

Church leaders in the Central African Republic are hoping the arrival of French and African troops will help settle a situation that has effectively left people barricaded in their homes in the capital, Bangui.

“It’s tense and dangerous on the streets and everyone is afraid,” said Msgr. Cyriaque Gbate Doumalo, secretary-general of the Catholic bishops’ conference.

“We’ve long appealed for the international community to intervene, since no one here can do anything. We hope the new forces will now act quickly to bring this crisis to an end,” he told Catholic News Service Dec. 5.

Msgr. Doumalo said he had been unable to leave his residence because of “constant shooting everywhere,” and said local radio stations, deprived of staff, were playing music rather than broadcasting news.

A woman runs from gunfire in Bangui, Central African Republic, Dec. 5. The nation’s Catholic leaders welcomed the deployment of French forces amid an upsurge of fighting in the capital. (CNS photo/Emmanuel Braun, Reuters)

He said St. Bernard Parish in the northern part of Bangui had appealed for help after refugees from the fighting, some with gunshot wounds, sought shelter in the church.

“The roads are all blocked and there’s no movement in the city, so we can do nothing,” Msgr. Doumalo said. “We need the international community to do something as soon as possible to separate the two sides and restore peace and hope.”

The priest spoke to CNS just hours before the U.N. Security Council authorized French and African troops as peacekeepers in the country.

As the vote on the authorization approached, international media reported the increase in fighting in Bangui. Agence France-Presse reported at least 16 people were killed in fighting Dec. 5, after Bangui was attacked in the early hours by supporters of former President Francois Bozize, whose ouster by rebels in March plunged the Central African Republic into chaos.

East of Bangui, Bishop Juan Aguirre Munoz of Bangassou said the presence of French and African reinforcements was already being felt in his diocese, with rebel soldiers on the run in some areas.

However, he added that Catholic missions in Bangassou and Bouca were still sheltering tens of thousands of displaced people, many of whom lacked food and medicine, and said a group of Christians and Muslims were working together to “promote peace and reconciliation through forgiveness.”

“The situation in Central Africa is different according to where you are,” Bishop Aguirre told Fides, the Vatican’s missionary news agency, Dec. 3.

“Sectarian tensions are strongest in the north, but with the deployment of French and African troops, I think we’ll be able to avoid interfaith collision,” he said.

The Catholic church’s nine dioceses make up around a third of the 4.4 million inhabitants of the Central African Republic, one of the world’s poorest countries, with Muslims comprising around a tenth.

The United Nations says one in 10 inhabitants fled their homes and a quarter were left in need of food, after Seleka, a rebel coalition of mostly foreign mercenaries, ousted Bozize and suspended the constitution. Church leaders say the rebels, not the nation’s Muslims, have been targeting Christians.

In a June statement, the bishops’ conference said Seleka’s occupation had left the country “looted and destroyed” and its “social fabric completely torn up.”

However, Msgr. Doumalo told CNS he was confident the planned French deployment, with a U.N. mandate to “take all necessary measures” to assist an African force of 3,600 troops, would quickly change the situation.

“A large part of our population, adults and children, is now displaced and terrified with nowhere left to go,” Msgr. Doumalo told CNS. “The fact that fighting is now centered on Bangui has already created a new situation, and I’m sure these foreign forces can now quite easily restore order.”

 

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