BANGUI, Central African Republic, Pope Francis made his first trip to a conflict zone Sunday when he arrived to the Central African Republic, a country torn apart by violence between Christians and Muslims.
Francis said he hopes next month’s parliamentary and first-round presidential elections will open a “new chapter” for the CAR.
“It is my fervent wish that the various national consultations to be held in coming weeks will enable the country to embark serenely on a new chapter of its history,” Francis said upon his arrival to Bangui, capital of the CAR, where he declared himself a “pilgrim of peace and an apostle of hope.”
Francis pleaded for residents not to succumb to “the temptation of fear of others, of the unfamiliar, of what is not part of our ethnic group, our political views or our religious confession.”
CAR has been afflicted by civil war between a Muslim minority and a Christian majority since March 2013. Thousands have died and about 1 million people have been displaced, with accusations against the Christian militias and Muslim rebels of human rights violations including extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture and rape.
Francis visited the Saint Sauveur camp of internally displaced people in the capital. The camp only had about 75 people taking refuge there a few months ago, but an outburst of violence in late September led the population of the camp to rise to about 3,700.
Francis will hold mass in Bangui and is expected to meet Muslim leaders. He will also visit a mosque in the city’s Muslim enclave, known as the PK5.
Francis arrived in Kenya on Wednesday for his first visit to Africa as pontiff. He visited Uganda before traveling to the CAR. A sixth of the world’s Catholics are African.
There will be an estimated 1.1 billion Christians and 670 million Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa by 2050.