At Bangui mosque and Mass, pope prays for 'salam,' peace

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

Central African Republic (CNS) — Pope Francis ended his visit to the
violence-torn Central African Republic with cries for peace and pleas for a
mercy that seeks and grants forgiveness.

a country where political and ethnic rivalries also have split the population along religious lines,
Pope Francis began Nov. 30 with a visit to the Koudoukou mosque in Bangui.

two years of civil war, much of the recurrent violence in the country involves
the murder of a Christian or a Muslim, then retaliations from members of the
other community. Most areas of Bangui are divided into Christian or Muslim
neighborhoods with “buffer zones” between them patrolled by U.N.

is peace, ‘salam,'” the pope said in his speech at the mosque, where armed
U.N. peacekeepers monitored the crowd outside from each of the three minarets.

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

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.

recent events and acts of violence which have shaken your country were not
grounded in properly religious motives,” he said, but some have used God’s
name as an excuse for their actions, which “disfigures the face of

Francis prayed that the elections scheduled for Dec. 27 would be a symbol and victory of national
unity rather than being seen as the victory of one particular faction.

your country a welcoming home for all its children, regardless of their ethnic
origin, political affiliation or religious confession,” the pope urged the

Tidiani Moussa Naibi, the
imam of the mosque, assured the pope that Central African Christians and
Muslims know that they are brothers and sisters. “Trouble mongers could
delay the completion of a particular project of common interest or compromise
for a time a particular activity, but never, ‘inshallah,’ (God willing) can they destroy
the bonds of brotherhood that unite our communities so solidly.”

the speeches, Pope Francis asked the imam 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.

Catholic archbishop of Bangui, the president of the country’s evangelical
Christian alliance and another imam have been leading a very public campaign of
education and cooperation to end the violence. The three were present at the
mosque for the pope’s visit.

the pope visited the camp for displaced people that has sprouted around the
mosque, just as other camps have mushroomed around the city’s Catholic

show just how special the visit was, Pope Francis personally opened the Holy
Door at Bangui’s cathedral Nov. 29, nine days before the official opening of
the Year of Mercy.

last event on the pope’s schedule was a Mass in a sports stadium, where he
urged the Catholic community to participate in the Year of Mercy by moving
forward courageously toward peace and reconciliation.

country’s bishops chose “Cross to the Other Side” as the theme for
the pope’s visit, and he told people in the stadium that even though the
elections are only four weeks away, they are still only in midstream in their
journey to the side of peace.

Christians, he said, need to break the habits of sin and division, which are
“ever ready to rise up again at the prompting of the devil. How often this
happens in our world and in these times of conflict, hate and war! How easy it
is to be led into selfishness, distrust, violence, destructiveness, vengeance,
indifference to and exploitation of those who are most vulnerable.”

Francis urged the country’s Catholics to hold fast to their faith, sharing it
with all they meet through words and, especially, gestures of care, peace and

At the end of Mass, the pope gave a
special greeting “of joy and fraternity” to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
of Constantinople, wishing him — “from the heart of Africa” — a
happy feast of St. Andrew.

“I ask the Lord to bless our sister churches,” he said.

evening before, after celebrating Mass with priests, religious and catechists,
the pope joined the young people who had watched the liturgy from outside the
cathedral. They were holding a prayer vigil into the night, with special
permission to stay outside the cathedral beyond the 8 p.m. curfew in the
violence-torn city.

centerpiece of the event, though, was the sacrament of confession, which Pope
Francis personally administered to five youths.

urged the young people to pray often, to forgive those who hurt them and to be
courageous enough to stay in their country and work for peace.

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