Pope Francis visits Central African Republic War Zone

Pope Francis made history when he visited Central African Republic (CAR) – a designated war zone. He declared himself to be a pilgrim of peace and also an apostle of hope. His visit was an effort to support reconciliation and peace in this destitute and divided country. It was a country bloodied by infighting between Christians and Muslims.

His 24-hour long visit to Bangui, the capital city, the pope was accompanied at all times by flak jacket wearing Vatican security personnel and also by heavily armed U.N. peacekeepers. The streets were patrolled by United Nations tanks. The nation is stuck in a civil war where thousands of its population were killed and approximately one million individuals displaced. Property were destroyed and looted. The list of violation of human rights included extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, disappearances and torture.

The Pope, in his speech at the Bangui presidential palace, requested people not to allow themselves to be tempted in fearing others and of the unfamiliar. This could be someone not part of the same ethnic group and may also be of dissimilar religion.

The problem in CAR goes back to 2013, when then President Francois Bozize was overthrown by a rebel group. The mineral-rich but poor country of 4.6 million people soon descended to a split along religious lines. If one goes by the figures furnished by Human Rights Watch, then almost 100 people were killed by fighting during October and November. The visit by the Pope did not make a dent in the violence. Two men were killed just as his aircraft made a touchdown.

The Pope, however, was not deterred by such violence. His car made its way through the pothole-ridden Bangui roads, waving from the partially open Popemobile. United Nations peacekeepers, all of them heavily armed, tried to keep the crowds in check as a helicopter watched from the sky. France, the former colonial power, had warned the Papal entourage earlier that the visit could be risky. Francis, however, was determined to visit this majority Christian nation.

The pope drove past thousands of people who lined up to welcome him. He said the assembled populace should work and pray and also do anything that might bring in peace. He also reminded them that peace sans tolerance, friendship and love does not mean anything. The crowds loved him even more when he repeatedly shouted in Songo, the local language.

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