19 November 2015
Christopher Lamb in Rome
Pope Francis to go ahead with trip to African country torn apart by religious conflict
Pope Francis is planning to press ahead with a planned visit to the Central African Republic (CAR) despite the country being a war zone and ravaged with sectarian violence.
On Wednesday the Pope will embark on his first tip to Africa between 25-30 November visiting Kenya, Uganda and the CAR which has seen increasing tensions between Christians and Muslims.
In a briefing with journalists today Fr Federico Lombardi (pictured), Director of the Holy See Press Office, indicated that Francis wanted to visit the CAR in order to bring a message of peace and reconciliation.
Leaders of the CAR, a former French colony, are also keen for him to visit although it is understood that security concerns have increased following the Paris terror attacks. France has said it cannot guarantee the safety of the Pope.
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CAR is being held together by United Nations’ peacekeeping forces with UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moo asking the security council to approve the transfer 300 peacekeepers from the Ivory Coast.
The country has a majority Christian population but is divided on religious and sectarian grounds. It is rich in oil and uranium and much of the conflict stems from disputes about money rather than simply religion, according to high level government sources in the country.
Fr Lombardi said that on 30 November the Pope will go to the Koudougou mosque in Bangui, the capital city of CAR, for an “important” meeting with Muslims.
The spokesman also confirmed that Francis will travel in an unprotected Popemobile throughout the trip - he also denied reports the Pope would wear a bullet proof vest.
Francis is not the first Pope to visit CAR and he follows in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II who did so thirty years ago in August 1985.
It is also not unprecedented for a papal visit to be cancelled for security reasons. In 1994 John Paul II cancelled a trip to Sarajevo, although returned to the country three years later.
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Francis starts his Africa visit on 25 November by flying into Nairobi. During his time in the country he will attend an inter-religious and ecumenical gathering and also visit a slum in Kangemi.
When in Uganda the Pope will visit the shrines of 23 Anglican and 22 Catholic martyrs who were killed in the country in the nineteenth century. Fr Lombardi explained that his would be a “significant" ecumenical event.
Francis’ itinerary also includes meetings with the heads of state of all three countries with CAR led by interim president Catherine Samba-Panza.
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