Pope calls on Christians and Muslims to unite against violence
by Daily Sabah with Wires
ISTANBULDec 01, 2015 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Daily Sabah with Wires
Dec 01, 2015 12:00 am
Pope Francis Monday called on Christians and Muslims to unite against violence exercised in the name of religion and to "say no to hatred."
On the last leg of a three-nation tour of Africa, the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholic visited a flashpoint Muslim neighborhood in Bangui, where inter-religious tensions remain high after months of violence on what was the most dangerous part of his 24-hour visit. Thousands of people gathered at the roadsides, cheering as his car drove down the red dirt roads in a truly festive atmosphere. As his vehicle passed, many waving Vatican flags and dressed in long traditional robes ran down the road after it, an AFP correspondent said.
"Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters," the pope said during a visit to a mosque in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic (CAR). "We are well aware that the recent events and acts of violence which have shaken your country were not grounded in properly religious motives," Francis said at the Koudoukou mosque, located in a flashpoint Muslim neighborhood. He called on Christians, Muslims and followers of African traditional religions to work "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." "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," the pope said.
Several hundred people packed into the mosque, including a number of people actually living there after being forced out of their homes by the violence. "We are very proud to welcome him, the pope is not only for the Christians, he is a servant of God for all Central Africans," said Ibrahim Paulin, a spokesman for the displaced.
The pope and the imam of the mosque observed a moment of silence in front of the mihrab, which indicates the direction of Mecca. Francis also visited displaced people staying in the area, while hundreds of UN peacekeepers secured the neighborhood, some of them surveying it from the minarets of the mosque.
Francis said his visit to the war-torn nation "would not be complete if it did not include this encounter with the Muslim community," saying all those who believed in God "must be men and women of peace." Despite the tight security, the visit took place in a relaxed atmosphere, an AFP correspondent said.
After the meeting with Muslim representatives, Francis addressed tens of thousands of the faithful at an open-air Mass. He rode into the stadium in the waving to ecstatic crowds. Dancers dressed in green surrounded bishops as they mounted to the podium. In his homily, the pope called on Catholics to "forge bonds of friendship, to dialogue with those who are different than ourselves, to forgive those who have wronged us."
The 78-year-old Argentinian pontiff arrived Sunday in CAR for the last leg of his six-day African tour, which first took him to Kenya and then to Uganda. He met with CAR interim President Catherine Samba-Panza, visited a camp of displaced people and celebrated a Mass in Bangui Cathedral.
Francis came to CAR despite concern for his security. Local security forces received backing from UN peacekeepers and French troops, which together number about 12,000 in CAR. Francis' first visit to a crisis zone was his 11th trip abroad since he became pope in 2013. Africa is home to an estimated 180 million Catholics, and their numbers are growing rapidly.
After the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power early in 2013, the Central African Republic has been in a state of crisis. Since then, sectarian violence has been escalating in central and eastern parts of the country, as the anti-Balaka, Christian militia forces started to launch attacks against the Seleka. Amnesty International in one of its recent reports estimated that more than 5,000 people, the majority of whom were civilians, died in sectarian violence in the Central African Republic despite the presence of international forces. The violence also displaced a quarter of CAR's 4.7 million people.
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