Bangui, Central African Republic, Nov 30, 2015 / 03:28 am (CNA/EWTN News) - Christians and Muslims must unite against acts which “disfigure the Face of God” by promoting peace, Pope Francis told Islamic representatives on the final day of his visit the war-torn Central African Republic (CAR).
“Those who claim to believe in God must also be men and women of peace,” the Pope said at the Nov. 30 encounter at the Mosque of Koudoukou in the CAR capital Bangui, recalling the long history of peaceful coexistence among people of different religions.
“Christians, Muslims and members of the traditional religions have lived together in peace for many years,” the pontiff said, adding: “We are well aware that the recent events and acts of violence which have shaken your country were not grounded in properly religious motives.”
Pope Francis arrived Sunday in the CAR, the final stop of his tri-nation visit to Africa. It also marks the pontiff’s first time in an active war zone.
“Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters. We must therefore consider ourselves and conduct ourselves as such,” he said.
“They ought, therefore, to remain united in working for an end to every act which, from whatever side, disfigures the Face of God and whose ultimate aim is to defend particular interests by any and all means, to the detriment of the common good.”
“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. God is peace, salam.”
The CAR became embroiled in violence in December 2012 when several bands of mainly Muslim rebel groups formed an alliance, taking the name Seleka. They left their strongholds in the north of the country and made their way south, seizing power from then-president Francois Bozize. Since then, some 6,000 people have died in the conflict, with several thousands more displaced.
The country will hold both presidential and parliamentary elections Dec. 27, after they were postponed in October due to violence and instability. Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza, who has so far struggled to keep peace, will not be a candidate.
Pope Francis went forward with the scheduled visit to the Koudoukou mosque despite security concerns. These fears were exacerbated by reports Saturday of three young people being killed in a nearby neighborhood, although it was later announced that no one died, and that the youths had been found.
In his address at the mosque, the Pope expressed his gratitude for the work done by Christian and Muslim leaders to re-establish “harmony and fraternity among all.”
The pontiff went on to acknowledge the acts of solidarity shown by Christians and Muslims towards persons of other religions by “welcoming them and defending them during this latest crisis in your country, as well as in other parts of the world.”
“We cannot fail to express hope that the forthcoming national consultations will provide the country with leaders capable of bringing Central Africans together, thus becoming symbols of national unity rather than merely representatives of one or another faction.”
The Pope called for the CAR, which is “situated in the heart of Africa,” to be a place of welcome for everyone – regardless of ethnicity, political affiliation, or religion – which in turn will encourage the rest of the continent to follow in its footsteps.
“It will prove a positive influence and help extinguish the smouldering tensions which prevent Africans from benefitting from that development which they deserve and to which they have a right.”
Pope Francis concluded his address by inviting those present to “pray and work for reconciliation, fraternity and solidarity among all people, without forgetting those who have suffered the most as a result of recent events.”
The Pope’s visit to the CAR is the last stop of his Nov. 25-30 African journey which included visits to Kenya and Uganda.
St. John Paul II was the last pontiff to visit CAR when he stopped there briefly in 1985 as part of a larger trip to Togo, the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Zaire and Kenya.