Pope visits conflict zone in Central African Republic

Pope Francis has become the first Pontiff in recent history to visit a conflict zone when he arrived in the Central African Republic on Sunday.

The nation has been embroiled in a civil war between a Muslim minority and a Christian majority since March, 2013.

Arriving in the capital, Bangui, Francis declared himself a “pilgrim of peace and an apostle of hope”.

The Pope was greeted upon his arrival with heavy security presence.

United Nations soldiers carrying rifles were alongside plainclothes officers, and what appeared to be members of the Vatican detail wearing heavy protective vests.

UN tanks and pickup trucks also lined the streets near crowds waiting for the Pope, with mounted heavy guns manned by soldiers.

Helicopters flew overhead.

The Pope visited Koudoukou mosque in Bangui on Monday and met local Muslim leaders in an area of the city regarded as dangerous.

Residents of that area, known as PK5, were unable to leave it on Sunday because of armed Christian militia fighters surroundings its perimeter.

Speaking to a crowd at the mosque, Francis said Muslims and Christians are brothers, and must live as such.

At the CAR presidential palace on Sunday, Francis called for unity and to avoid “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”.

Francis said he hoped elections scheduled for the CAR would herald a new chapter in its history.

On Sunday, he next went to the Saint Saveur refugee camp, home to 3700 people, which is known for high rates of malaria and for its appalling hygiene conditions.

Residents sang and danced for the Pontiff and expressed hopes that he would act as a mediator to quell the conflict.

“I wish for you and all Central Africans a great peace . . . whatever may be your ethnicity, your religion, your social status,” Francis told the crowd.

The Pope then led them in a chant of “We are all brothers”.

The visit to the CAR is the final leg of a three nation African journey for the Pope.


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