Pope Francis to accomplish a ‘special mission’ in restive Bangui on his visit

Pope Francis was set to embark on the final leg of his Africa — to Bangui in Central African Republic — on Sunday, which he has described as an opportunity to accomplish a “special mission”.

This followed a busy schedule in Kenya, where he spoke about religious tolerance, inequality, corruption and climate change, visited a slum and held a meeting with young people, and Uganda, where he was set to honour the martyrs and speak to the youth.

The Pope told journalists travelling with him to Africa for his first papal visit to the continent that he would only reveal his “special mission” in CAR once he was airborne back to Rome.

“It is my wish that my visit will contribute to the dressing of the wounds and opening of the way to a more serene future for Central African Republic and all its citizens,” said the Pope, who was received by enthusiastic crowds in Kenya and Uganda.

The visit by Pope Francis to one of Africa’s inter-religious conflict zones, where thousands of people have been killed, will make history. He will, for the second time, enter a mosque in a gesture to show the world that a “them-versus-us” situation should not be tolerated.

READ: Pope Francis’ Speech on inter-faith tolerance

The Pontiff’s visit to CAR weeks before its elections, which are scheduled for December, is hoped to have a reconciliatory impact on a population that has in the past two years been rocked by a political conflict that has taken outrageous religious dimensions.

In Bangui, the Pope was set to oversee a mass confession by the youth and the beginning of the Vigil of Prayer in front of the Cathedral. This would be his first and only confession session on the African trip.

The sacrament of reconciliation is considered one of the beautiful aspects of Catholicism it is meant to provide healing, relief, peace, joy and love.

The Vatican ambassador to Bangui, Archbishop Franco Coppola, said the Pope’s visit was meant to provide a “glue” between Christians and Muslims in finding new ways to present their respective creeds as partners and not aersaries.

Pope Francis’s meeting with the Muslim community at the Koudoukou mosque in the heart of the Muslim district in Bangui on Monday is expected to offer a special significance to both Christians and Muslims, one of togetherness.

According to Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi, the Pontiff’s theme in a region where religion has been used as an excuse for violence would be of mutual forgiveness, stressing that both Muslims and Christians share a belief in the same single God.

“The Pope will implore both religious leaders that religion must never be used to promote hatred or violence,” Fr Lombardi said.

Archbishop Coppola added that the visit to the mosque would reiterate “loud and clear” the Catholic Church’s commitment to interreligious dialogue.

“The visit is also meant to show the rest of the population that different communities can and must live and work together,” Archbishop Coppola said.

In his visit to Istanbul, Turkey, in November, the head of the Roman Catholic Church attended Muslim prayers that were led by the Grand Mufti.

When he joins Muslims in a Bangui mosque, Pope Francis will become the third pontiff to enter a mosque after Pope John Paul II visited the Olmayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria, in 2001. In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI also entered the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

On all these occasions, the pontiffs passed the message of religious tolerance. It is a theme that marked Pope Francis’s entire Africa visit. 

In his address to religious leaders in Kenya on Thursday morning, the Pontiff said inter-religious dialogue was not optional but essential for a wounded world, adding that terrorism and violence are fed by fear, mistrust and the despair borne of poverty and frustration.

Recalling the terrorist attacks at Westgate Mall in 2013 and at Garissa University this year, the Pontiff said that God’s “holy name must never be used to justify hatred and violence.”

He said: “It is sad that young people are being radicalised in the name of religion to sow discord and fear and to tear at fabric of society.

“It is important that we are seen as prophets of peace, peacemakers who invite others to live in peace, harmony and mutual respect. May the Almighty touch the hearts of those who engage in this violence and grant his peace to our families and communities.”

And while meeting religious leaders from different faiths in Nairobi, he said: “It is my hope that our time together may be a sign of the Church’s esteem for the followers of all religions may it strengthen the bonds of friendship which we already enjoy.”

The Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (Supkem) national chairman, Prof Abdulghafur El-Busaidy, said Muslims believed in the unity of the faiths in grappling with modern-day challenges facing humanity.

“As people of one God and of this world, we must stand up in unison, clasp hands together in all the things that are essential for our collective progress as one humanity, irrespective of race, ethnicity, politics and religion,” Prof El-Busaidy said.

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has confirmed his attendance at the papal Mass at Uganda Martyrs Shrine in Namugongo later on Saturday. South Sudan is still embroiled in political violence, which has seen thousands of people killed.