Pope appeals for end to violence in Africa

© Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk
Pope Francis greets pilgrims

Pope Francis is due to make his first visit to Africa at the end of this month, in what many are describing as the trip with the most security risks of his pontificate to date. He is due to visit Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic but yesterday he hinted that his planned visit to the Central African Republic might be in jeopardy. His pastoral visit – in response to invitations by each of the three heads of states and local bishops – will potentially bring him face to face with Islamic extremism and a region of the world that has been rocked by Christian-Muslim violence over recent years.

Speaking to tens of thousands of people in St Peter's Square, Pope Francis called for an end to the "cycle of violence" in the Central African Republic, which he is scheduled to visit on 28 and 29 November. He has previously spoken simply of going there, but on Sunday he was more cautious, saying only that he “hoped to be able to visit”. Last week, 11 people were killed in the capital Bangui, including three peace negotiators. A senior source in the Vatican said the Pope had chosen the phrase deliberately because of the recent violence, adding: "If the situation worsens, he will not be able to go and he is aware of that."

An already delicate situation

In Kenya, there has been the threat of attacks from al-Shabab, which is linked to al-Qaida. Islamic militants were behind the 2013 attack on Nairobi's Westgate mall and an April attack on a university in Garissa that killed nearly 150 people. According to survivors of this attack, gunmen targeted Christians and non-Muslims.

"The painful events that have worsened an already delicate situation in the Central African Republic in recent days are of great concern to me," the Pope told pilgrims after the recitation of the Angelus on Sunday. "I appeal to all those involved to put an end to this cycle of violence."

The Central African Republic is a former French colony and is mostly Christian. After Seleka rebels seized power in a coup in 2013, the country has witnessed the segregation of communities, with tens of thousands of Muslims fleeing to the far north and creating a de facto partition. Last Thursday, mobs killed four people in Bangui and on Saturday, Muslim militants killed at least two people and wounded several in a Christian neighbourhood of the capital.