Pope in Bangui: Open the doors of mercy, counter violence with love

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

BANGUI, Central African Republic
(CNS) — Put down the weapons of war and work for justice, Pope Francis urged
the people of the Central African Republic.

“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,” the pope said in an evening homily Nov.
29 at Bangui’s cathedral.

A civil war that began in 2013
and ongoing outbursts of violence, including between mainly Muslim and mainly
Christian militias, have sown terror in the Central African Republic, which
already was on most lists of the five poorest countries in Africa. A fifth of
the country’s population has fled abroad or is living in camps for displaced
people.

Explaining to people outside the
Bangui cathedral that their city was, for the day, “the spiritual capital
of the world,” Pope Francis prayed for the mercy and grace of peace as he
used both hands and his body weight to push open the Holy Door of the
cathedral. The main opening of the Year of Mercy will be Dec. 8 at St. Peter’s
Basilica in Rome.

Marking the first Sunday of
Advent at the Mass with priests, religious, catechists and youths, Pope Francis
urged the Catholic community to be committed to helping the country make a new
start.

Christians, and especially those
with a vocation to priesthood or religious life, are called to love their
enemies, “which protects us from the temptation to seek revenge and from
the spiral of endless retaliation,” the pope said in his homily.

Anyone who has a role of
evangelizer, teacher or preacher in the Christian community, he said, must be
“first and foremost practitioners of forgiveness, specialists in
reconciliation, experts in mercy.”

As Catholics observe the Advent
time of waiting to celebrate Christ’s coming, he said, they should keep
reminding themselves that God is a God of justice and of love — two things the
people of Central African Republic need desperately.

“God is stronger than all else,”
the pope said. “This conviction gives the believer serenity, courage and
the strength to persevere in good amid the greatest hardships.”

“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,” the pope said.

Pope Francis arrived at the
cathedral after a meeting with representatives of the Central African
Republic’s evangelical and Protestant communities.

Catholic Archbishop Dieudonne
Nzapalainga of Bangui, president of the Central African Republic bishops’
conference, Rev. Nicolas Guerekoyame-Gbangou, president of the Evangelical
Alliance of the Central African Republic, and Imam Oumar Kobine Layama,
president of the Islamic Community of Central African Republic, have been
working together to persuade their people to end the vendettas and embrace
peace and reconciliation.

Rev. Guerekoyame-Gbangou was
among those welcoming Pope Francis Nov. 29 to a special meeting with
representatives of the country’s evangelical and Protestant communities.

The pope publicly expressed
“closeness and solidarity to Pastor Nicolas, whose home was recently
ransacked and set on fire, as was the meeting-place of his community. In these
difficult circumstances, the Lord keeps asking us to demonstrate to everyone
his tenderness, compassion and mercy.”

For too long, too many Central
Africans have been suffering, the pope said.

“There are also those who
have been scarred in soul or body by hatred and violence, those whom war has
deprived of everything: work, home and loved ones,” the pope said. When
God looks upon the suffering, he does not see members of one denomination or
another.

“I have often called this
the ecumenism of blood,” he said. “All our communities suffer
indiscriminately as a result of injustice and the blind hatred unleashed by the
devil.”

Pope Francis urged the country’s
Christians to continue on the path of ecumenism, cooperation and common prayer.

“The lack of unity among
Christians is a scandal,” he said, “above all because it is contrary
to God’s will.”

But it is also a scandal in a
world torn apart by hatred and violence, a world yearning for a word of peace
and unity, he said. 

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