Despite all the concerns about security, Pope Francis went ahead with his visit to the Central African Republic today in what must have been an extremely stressful day for the Swiss Guard and those charged with the safety of the Holy Father.
To watch it as it happens and see pictures and reports from during the day, click into #PopeinCAR on Twitter.
Crux - Pope arrives as ‘Pilgrim of Peace’ in war-torn Central African Republic
BBC - Pope Francis tells CAR to 'arm themselves with justice'
WSJ - Pope Francis Calls for Harmony in Central African Republic
MailOnline - 'Bienvenue Pape Francois': Thousands welcome the Pope to Central African Republic which has been torn apart by violence between Christians and Muslims
Catholic Herald - Counter violence with love, Pope tells Central African Republic faithful
CNA - 'Can I go' to them? Pope Francis' stunning response to alleged murders and follow up to this story from Crux - Africans believed killed in area pope is to visit turn up safe
Currently the only Irish NGO on the ground in CAR is Concern Worldwide. If you want to find out more check out Concern Worldwide's page about their work HERE.
To understand the conflict in CAR check out these reports here and here.
The team over at Rome Reports however have some excellent summary reports already filed!
According to the United Nations, 25 percent of the Central African Republic's five million residents have been internally displaced since 2013. While in the country, Pope Francis visited with a group of refugees at the San Salvador parish in Bangui. But before that, these children showed their excitement with dancing and singing. Pope Francis entered by foot and began by first greeting the sick and the youngest refugees. One of the parish's women thanked him for his visit and hoped that it would be the seed of reconciliation. Afterward, Pope Francis made improvised remarks and asked them to repeat a message in the future: "We are all brothers.”
The Jubilee of Mercy began here, in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. It's the third poorest country in the world. And this is how Pope Francis arrived in the Popemobile at the Cathedral of Our Immaculate Conception in Bangui. There he celebrated Mass for the first Sunday of Advent. But before, he delivered some improvised remarks. He called Bangui the spiritual capital of the world.
"Bangui is the spiritual capital of the prayer for God's mercy. Together let us pray for peace, mercy, reconciliation, forgiveness, love. For Bangui, for all of the Central African Republic and for the entire world and everyone who suffers from war, we ask for us peace. Together we ask for love and peace. Love and peace. Now, with this prayer, we begin the Holy Year, here in this spiritual capital of the world.”
And with that prayer and gesture, Pope Francis began the Jubilee of Mercy, opening the Holy Door in the Cathedral of Bangui.
In his homily, the Pope spoke about reconciliation and forgiveness. The Central African Republic has been faced with a civil war since 2013, in which two rival factions have pitted Muslims against Christians and other ethnicities and religions.
"One of the essential characteristics of this vocation to perfection is the love of our enemies, which protects us from the temptation to seek revenge and from the spiral of endless retaliation.”
He also spoke about hope and justice for all people who may not see positive signs on the horizon. He reminded them that God is justice and love.
"God is stronger than all else. This conviction gives to the believer serenity, courage and the strength to persevere in good amid the greatest hardships. 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 before finishing, he delivered a powerful message to all of those who take up arms against each other.
"Lay down these instruments of death! Arm yourselves instead with righteousness, with love and mercy, the authentic guarantors of peace.”
The final words of the Pope's homily were familiar ones: reconciliation, love, forgiveness, and peace. They received a thunderous applause. Some 2,500 people attended the Mass, including Imam Kobina Layama, from Bangui's central mosque. He was joined by local leaders and hundreds of pilgrims just outside the cathedral.