Pope Francis: 'Christians and Muslims are brothers'

November 30, 2015, 10:32am


Pope Francis said Christians and Muslims should turn their back on revenge and hatred. Photo: NAMPA-AFP

By BBC News

Pope Francis has told worshippers in a mosque in the capital of the Central African Republic that "Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters".

He was speaking to Muslims who had sought shelter in Bangui following nearly three years of violence between Christians and Muslims.

The mosque visit was seen as perhaps the most difficult part of his Africa tour, a BBC correspondent says. Pope Francis will conclude his trip to Africa with a final Mass in Bangui.

Most Muslims left the capital as a result of the fighting but 15,000 are left in an area called PK5, surrounded by armed Christian militia. On Sunday, the Pope called on fighting factions in the CAR to lay down their weapons.

Celebrating Mass in Bangui, he said they should instead arm themselves "with justice, love, mercy and authentic peace".

Earlier, he said he hoped next month's election in the CAR would open a "new chapter" for the country. CAR has been torn apart by violence between Muslim rebels and mainly Christian militias.

It is the pontiff's first visit to a conflict zone and the final stop on his landmark three-nation African tour.

Acting President Catherine Samba-Panza has asked him for "forgiveness" for the country's recent religious violence.

'Temptation of fear'

Hundreds of people waited amid tight security but in a calm atmosphere ahead of the Pope's visit to the Koudoukou mosque in Bangui on Monday.

After meeting local Muslim leaders, Francis will address the crowd and is expected to continue his theme of religious reconciliation.

On Sunday, large crowds had lined the road from the airport to welcome the Pope - and people cheered and sang when he arrived at a refugee camp.

In an address at the presidential palace, he called for unity and to avoid "the temptation of fear of others, of the unfamiliar, of what is not part of our ethnic group, our political views or our religious confession".

Conflict has blighted the CAR for decades but it was only in 2013 tha the fighting took on a religious form.

President Francois Bozize was ousted in a coup in March 2013 and a group of mostly Muslim rebels from the north, the Seleka, marched on Bangui, briefly taking control of the country. The Pope's African tour also took in Uganda and Kenya.

In Uganda, the Pope celebrated Mass in front of an audience of hundreds of thousands of people, and spoke at a Catholic shrine dedicated to Christians martyred for their faith in the 19th Century.

On Friday, the Pope addressed an audience of young people in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, urging them to unite and take a stand against the destructive effects of tribalism.

Their rebellion tapped into a feeling northerners had of being excluded and unrepresented by the central government, correspondents say.

They targeted churches and Christian communities, which triggered the creation of the anti-Balaka - meaning anti-violence - militias, and led to a downward spiral of tit-for-tat violence which continues.

Towns and villages are divided, with hundreds of thousands of people displaced into camps divided along religious lines.