Muslims and Christians broker secret peace deal during Pope Francis' visit to Central African Republic10 December 2015 | by Christopher Lamb in Rome
Francis handed details of deal at Mass in Bangui
A secret peace agreement was made between Christian and Muslim militias during Pope Francis’ trip to the Central African Republic (CAR) last month.
According to a report in Vatican Insider newspaper the non-aggression pact was signed between the leader of the Seleka Muslim rebels an the Anti-Balaka Christian group on the 13 November, the day of the terrorist attacks in Paris by Islamic extremists.
It was brokered by both the Vatican security services and the community of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic peace and reconciliation movement.
The pact was then, on 30 November, given to Archbishop Angelo Becciu, a senior Holy See diplomat, who was travelling with the Pope. He in turn gave a copy to Francis' at an open-air Mass in Bangui, the country’s capital.
It is understood that the peace pact is still tentatively in place in the country which has been ravaged by conflict and instability by Christian and Muslim groups. The Fides news agency says that the atmosphere is calmer following the Pope’s visits which was aimed at trying to bring peace.
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Francis’ visit to the Central African Republic was under review right up until the moment he arrived given the security concerns - the French government had earlier said they could not guarantee his safety in their former colony.
There are several hundred french troops based in the country alongside a United Nations peacekeeping force numbering around 11,000.
Of particular concern was the Pope’s visit to the Muslim quarter of Bangui where he went to a Mosque and prayed with a local imam. The Muslims in the city have been attacked and driven out of their homes after Islamic rebels inn the north of the country took part in an overthrow of the government in 2012.
Mauro Garofalo, of Sant’Egidio, was among those who embarked on a series of on the ground negotiations with the different factions in the run up to the visit.
He told Vatican Insider that he stressed to the groups that the Pope was not a politician but a messenger for peace and that his visit could be a moment of “national reconciliation” in the country.
A highlight of the Pope’s trip to the Central African Republic was his opening of the holy door in Bangui Cathedral which was followed by a Mass and Francis calling for warring factions to lay down their arms and forgive their enemies.
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