28 Nov 2015

Pope Francis to Head to War Zone in Central African Republic

From WSJ:

Pope Francis will fly Sunday to the war-torn capital of the Central African Republic, making a trip that has been in doubt for security reasons until practically the last minute, the Vatican spokesman said Saturday evening.

“We will the take the plane and fly to Bangui” according to schedule, Father Federico Lombardi said. The confirmation came at the end of a day in which the pope honored Christian martyrs in Uganda, met with young people there and greeted local clergy.

The Central African Republic has been beset since 2013 by civil war that has taken on a religious profile, with armed groups divided between Muslims and Christians. Bangui’s Muslim quarter has been especially hard hit, under siege from Christian militias and effectively off-limits to non-Muslims since September.


The pope plans to visit a mosque in the Muslim neighborhood as part of his effort to promote reconciliation, which will also include a meeting with local Christian and Muslim dialogue partners.

“I want to go to Central Africa,” the pope told the pilot of his flight to Africa last Wednesday, according to the Vatican newspaper, “and if you’re not able to take me, give me a parachute.”
Barring “extraordinary surprises,” the pope’s schedule remains unchanged, including an outdoor Mass on Monday, Father Lombardi said.

Pope Francis’ stay in the country, scheduled to last little more than 24 hours, will be one of the rare cases of a pope traveling to a war zone. Pope John Paul II traveled to Nicaragua in 1983, when Sandinista government forces were battling Contra rebels there. In 1994, John Paul called off a visit to Sarajevo, Bosnia, because of fighting there; he finally made the trip in 1997. Pope Francis’ trip to the Central African Republic is the last leg of a three-country African tour, the pope’s first visit to the continent, which started Wednesday in Kenya and took in Uganda.

The Vatican sent the head of papal security on a special reconnaissance mission just before the pope traveled to Africa. Father Lombardi said the official, Domenico Giani, had been in touch with the various forces keeping order in Bangui, but the spokesman declined to comment further on security issues.

France has about 900 troops in Bangui but says primary responsibility for security there lies with a multinational force of U.N. peacekeepers. That force has reportedly been expanded in recent days to as many as 4,000.

Father Lombardi spoke to journalists after a full day of papal events in the capital of Uganda. The day started when Pope Francis honored a group of Catholic and Anglican martyrs who were burned alive after refusing to renounce their faith in the late 19th century. Earlier in the day, the fourth in a six-day trip, he visited sanctuaries honoring the Catholic and Anglican martyrs in the city of Namugongo and celebrated Mass to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their canonization.

The martyrs’ stories show that “fidelity to God, honesty and integrity of life, and genuine concern for the good of others bring us that peace that the world cannot give,” the pope said.

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