19 April 2016, The Tablet

'Wind of change' has been blowing through CAR since Pope Francis' visit, new president says

There is now a real chance of peace in Central African Republic, confirms new leader Touadéra on visit to Vatican

Pope Francis and the newly elected President of the Central African Republic, Faustin Archange Touadéra, expressed a united desire for peace in the conflict-torn African nation as they met in the Vatican yesterday.

A statement from the Holy See press office said talks between the Pope and the President noted how the recent electoral process and the ongoing institutional reforms in the Central African Republic are taking place in a constructive manner, supported by dialogue between the different religious communities.

The two leaders expressed the desire that this process would mark the start of an era of peace and prosperity for the nation.

Discussions also focused on the consequences of years of conflict on the people of the Central African Republic, highlighting the need for the international community to continue to support the development of the country.

The statement said the two leaders spoke about good bilateral relations between the Holy See and the Central African Republic, sharing the hope that those relations would be further consolidated through legal instruments in the context of international law.

The Pope made an historic visit to the Central African Republic in November last year.

"Since the Holy Father's visit, we've felt a wind of change blowing through our country - there's been a total turnaround," said the head of the Central African Republic bishops' conference, Archbishop Nzapalainga.

"He came as a messenger of mercy and urged reconciliation in our communities. This summons to peace and forgiveness was heard by former enemies and combatants and has now become something real, giving the new president a real chance for peace, " he added.

Former Prime Minister Faustin-Archange Touadera won 63 per cent of votes in the country’s ballot in February. He was installed as president on 30 March.

Healing divisions and overcoming mistrust needed someone with a "clear understanding" of the Central African Republic and the will to act decisively, said Archbishop Nzapalainga in an interview with the Catholic News Service in February.

"I believe the new president will gather our people from east and west, north and south, reconciling them with themselves and others," the archbishop said.

"This election has encouraged us to place hope in the future and put aside our past of firearms, machetes and terrible destruction,” he added.

Catholics make up a third of the 4.4 million inhabitants of the Central African Republic. A rebel movement, led by Arab-speaking Islamists, ousted President Francois Bozize in March 2013. French and African peacekeepers drove back the rebels in January 2014.

Bangui-born Touadera, a former mathematics lecturer, served as prime minister under Bozize from 2008 to 2013.

The election to replace interim President Catherine Samba-Panza was repeatedly postponed because of violence in the country.

One-fifth of the population has fled to escape violence between Muslim and Christian militias.



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