African visitor brings message of reconciliation and peace

Pope Francis sits next to Imam Tidiani Moussa Naibi during a Nov. 30 meeting with the Muslim community at a mosque in Bangui, Central African Republic.

CNS PHOTO | STEFANO RELLANDINI, REUTERS

Pope Francis sits next to Imam Tidiani Moussa Naibi during a Nov. 30 meeting with the Muslim community at a mosque in Bangui, Central African Republic.

December 7, 2015
CINDY WOODEN
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

Violence in God's name "disfigures the face of God," Pope Francis said in a mosque in the Central African Republic, a nation torn by violence between Christians and Muslims.

"God is peace, 'salam,'" the pope said in his Nov. 30 speech at the Koudoukou mosque in Bangui.

"Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters," created by the same God, he said, and they must act like it.

"Together, we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself," Pope Francis insisted.

The speech came during his last day of a three-country visit to Africa during which he emphasized the need for both justice and forgiveness.

A civil war in the Central African Republic began in 2013. Ongoing outbursts of violence, including between mainly Muslim and mainly Christian militias, have sown terror in the impoverished nation.

Bangui is divided into Christian and Muslim neighbourhoods with "buffer zones" between them patrolled by UN peacekeepers.

A fifth of the country's population has fled abroad or is living in camps for displaced people.

Pope Francis asked Tidiani Moussa Naibi, the imam of the mosque, to show him the mihrab, which indicates the direction of Mecca, the direction Muslims face when praying. The pope and imam stood in front of it for several moments of silence.

All Christians, the pope said, need to break the habits of sin and division, which are "ever ready to rise up again at the prompting of the devil."

The previous day, the pope had urged people to put down the weapons of war and work for justice.

"Even when the powers of hell are unleashed, Christians must rise to the summons, their heads held high, and be ready to brave blows in this battle over which God will have the last word. And that word will be love and peace," he said in a homily at Bangui's cathedral.

"To all those who make unjust use of the weapons of this world, I make this appeal: Lay down these instruments of death! Arm yourselves instead with righteousness, with love and mercy, the authentic guarantors of peace."

In Uganda Nov. 27, Pope Francis said he wanted to do more than draw attention to Africa's problems. He praised Uganda particularly for welcoming refugees and allowing them to work.

Children dance as the pope celebrates Mass at the University of Nairobi in Nairobi, Kenya, Nov. 26.

CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING

Children dance as the pope celebrates Mass at the University of Nairobi in Nairobi, Kenya, Nov. 26.

"Our world, caught up in wars, violence and various forms of injustice is witnessing an unprecedented movement of peoples," he said.

"How we deal with them is a test of our humanity, our respect for human dignity and above all our solidarity with our brothers and sisters in need."

STARK CHOICE

In Nairobi, Kenya, Pope Francis said the world is facing a stark and serious choice, "either to improve or to destroy the environment."

"It would be sad, and I dare say even catastrophic, were special interests to prevail over the common good," the pope said Nov. 26 in referring to the Paris Climate Conference.

In his talk, the pope insisted there is a close connection between environmental destruction and unjust economic and political policies that penalize the poor.

DYSFUNCTIONAL MODEl

"We are faced with a great political and economic obligation to rethink and correct the dysfunctions and distortions of the current model of development."

That model, the pope said, leads to exploiting natural resources and to a failure to share the benefits of development with local communities.

The Paris conference, he said, "represents an important stage in the process of developing a new energy system which depends on a minimal use of fossil fuels, aims at energy efficiency and makes use of energy sources with little or no carbon content."