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Pope’s trouble-free visit boosts CAR peace hopes: archbishop

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Pope Francis

Pope Francis

The man who persuaded Pope Francis to visit Central African Republic (CAR) voiced relief Tuesday that the trip had passed off safely and hailed its success as a boost to hopes for lasting peace in the conflict-scarred country.

“They were predicting an apocalypse but not a single shot was fired,” said Dieudonne Nzapalainga, archbishop of Bangui, the capital of the impoverished former French colony.

“We are an abandoned, murdered, forgotten people,” the prelate told Vatican Radio. “The Holy Father came and gave us a message of hope.”

Francis’s 24-hour visit to the troubled CAR went ahead in the face of warnings from France that his security could not be guaranteed by peacekeeping troops deployed to stem communal violence that has claimed over 100 lives in the last three months alone.

Nzapalainga was instrumental in getting Francis to come to the country and show his support for local efforts to promote dialogue between Christians and Muslims, which he did notably with Monday’s visit to a mosque in what is considered one of the most dangerous areas of Bangui.

“Francis took off his shoes, went there to pray and be close to Muslims,” the archbishop said. “And he said ‘if I had not come today, I would have missed out on something. A part of us is part of you’.”

Nzapalainga said he was hopeful the goodwill generated by Pope Francis’s visit would carry over into presidential elections scheduled for December. “We will have to make sacrifices, accept that (whoever wins) becomes president in the name of all of us.”

During Monday’s visit to the Bangui mosque, Francis urged the country’s Christians and Muslims to embrace each other as brothers.

“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.

The visit was marked by extraordinary scenes prior to a stadium mass attended by tens of thousands of people.

Just before the pope’s arrival, two pickup trucks pulled up in the middle of the crowd and a group of Muslims leapt out, all wearing T-shirts bearing the pope’s image.

As they pushed through the crowd in an area where Muslims usually do not dare to venture, people cheered and applauded, shouting: “It’s over” in reference to the intercommunal hatred that has blighted the country in the last two years.

The landlocked CAR descended into a spiral of revenge killings after longtime Christian leader Francois Bozize was ousted by rebels from the mainly Muslim Seleka force in March 2013.

At the peak of the violence, more than 2,000 people were killed in December 2013 and January 2014, many of them hacked to death by machete or fatally beaten by lynch mobs.


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