Bangui (AsiaNews) - "I come as a pilgrim of peace, and an apostle of hope". This is how Pope Francis greeted the Central African Republic, in a speech centered on the values of " Unity, dignity, labour! Three very significant words, each of which represents as much a building project as a unending programme, something to be ceaselessly crafted". Not surprisingly, the first visit made by Francis, after the protocol to the head of state, was dedicated to the refugee camp of Saint Sauveur (pictured).
Thirty years after John Paul II, Francis arrived in a country that for almost two decades has been in the grip of violent riots and coups and in the last three years a civil war with bloody clashes - also between Muslims and Christians who are, respectively , 15% and almost 50% of the population - which has also reached the capital Bangui.
In fact in recent days, riots continued in Bangui, with the burning of shops and violence that since September has caused more than seventy dead. So much so that ahead of the Pope's visit a warning of attacks was issued questioning whether it would take place at all. Only yesterday, when asked about tomorrow's program, which includes a visit to the mosque located in the Muslim Quarter of the capital and the Mass at the sports center Barthelemy Boganda, Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, said that all appointments will be respected, "if not there are no surprises".
Doubts about the visit to Central Africa that the Vatican has always rejected and Francis himself, during the flight on November 25 that took him to Kenya, said to the pilot: "I want to go in Central Africa, if you can not land there, give me a parachute”.
The Pope left Uganda today and landed at the international M'poko airport in Bangui shortly after 10pm (local time), welcomed by the transition head of state of the Central African Republic, Catherine Samba-Panza, by religious and civilian authorities and a group of faithful. Then, he travelled to the presidential palace, the Palais de la Renaissance, where, after a private meeting with Mrs Samba-Panza, he addressed a speech to the authorities gathered there. In addition to the diplomatic corps, there were also representatives of international organizations operating in the country, even with the difficult task of stopping the war, and the work of which, he said, "recalls the ideal of solidarity and cooperation that requires it be cultivated among peoples and nations. "
"I come - he continued - as a pilgrim of peace and an apostle of hope. For this reason, I express my appreciation of the efforts made by the different national and international authorities, beginning with Madam Interim Head of State, to guide the country to this point. It is my fervent wish that the various national consultations to be held in coming weeks will enable the country to embark serenely on new chapter of its history. To brighten the horizon, there is the motto of the Central African Republic, which translates the hope of pioneers and the dream of the founding fathers: Unity-Dignity-Labour. Today, more than ever, this trilogy expresses the aspirations of each Central African. Consequently, it is a sure compass for the authorities called to guide the destiny of the country. Unity, dignity, labour! Three very significant words, each of which represents as much a building project as a unending programme, something to be ceaselessly crafted”.
Avoid fear of those who do not belong to your own group
“First unity. This, we know, is a cardinal value for the harmony of peoples. It is to be lived and built up on the basis of the marvellous diversity of our environment, avoiding 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. Unity, on the contrary, calls for creating and promoting a synthesis of the richness which each person has to offer. Unity in diversity is a constant challenge, one which demands creativity, generosity, self-sacrifice and respect for others”.
“Then, dignity. This moral value is rightly synonymous with the honesty, loyalty, graciousness and honour which characterize men and women conscious of their rights and duties, and which lead them to mutual respect. Each person has dignity. I was interested to learn that Central Africa is the country of the “Zo kwe zo”, the country where everbody is somebody. Everything must be done to protect the status and dignity of the human person. Those who have the means to enjoy a decent life, rather than being concerned with privileges, must seek to help those poorer than themselves to attain dignified living conditions, particularly through the development of their human, cultural, economic and social potential. Consequently, access to education and to health care, the fight against malnutrition and efforts to ensure decent housing for everyone must be at the forefront of a development concerned for human dignity. In effect, our human dignity is expressed by our working for the dignity of our fellow man”.
“Finally, labour. It is by working that you are able to improve the lives of your families. Saint Paul tells us that “children ought not to lay up for their parents, but parents for their children” (2 Cor 12:14). The work of parents expresses their love for their children. And you again, Central Africans, can improve this marvellous land by wisely exploiting its many resources. Your country is located in a region considered to be one of the two lungs of mankind on account of its exceptionally rich biodiversity. In this regard, echoing my Encyclical Laudato Si’, I would like particularly to draw the attention of everyone, citizens and national leaders, international partners and multinational societies, to their grave responsibility in making use of environmental resources, in development decisions and projects which in any way affect the entire planet. The work of building a prosperous society must be a cooperative effort. The wisdom of your people has long understood this truth, as seen in the proverb: “The ants are little, but since they are so many, they can bring their hoard home. It is no doubt superfluous to underline the capital importance of upright conduct and administration on the part of public authorities. They must be the first to embody consistently the values of unity, dignity and labour, serving as models for their compatriots”.
“The history of the evangelization of this land and the sociopolitical history of this country attest to the commitment of the Church in promoting the values of unity, dignity and labour. In recalling the pioneers of evangelization in the Central African Republic, I greet my brother bishops, who now carry on this work. With them, I express once more the readiness of the local Church to contribute even more to the promotion of the common good, particularly by working for peace and reconciliation. I do not doubt that the Central African authorities, present and future, will work tirelessly to ensure that the Church enjoys favourable conditions for the fulfilment of her spiritual mission. In this way she will be able to contribute increasingly to “promoting the good of every man and of the whole man” (Populorum Progressio, 14), to use the felicitous expression of my predecessor, Blessed Paul VI, who fifty years ago was the first Pope of modern times to come to Africa, to encourage and confirm the continent in goodness at the dawn of a new age”.
“For my part, I express my appreciation for the efforts made by the international community, represented here by the Diplomatic Corps and the members of the various Missions of the International Organizations. I heartily encourage them to continue along the path of solidarity, in the hope that their commitment, together with the activity of the Central African authorities, will help the country to advance, especially in the areas of reconciliation, disarmament, peacekeeping, health care and the cultivation of a sound administration at all levels. To conclude, I would like to express once more my joy to visit this marvellous country, located in the heart of Africa, home to a people profoundly religious and blessed with so such natural and cultural richness. Here I see a country filled with God’s gifts! May the Central African people, its leaders and its partners, always appreciate the value of these gifts by working ceaselessly for unity, human dignity and a peace based on justice”.
Francis first visit was to a refugee camp, which he drove to in an open topped car and where he was greeted on arrival by a representative of the association of "Displaced women ". Welcomed by the children of the camp, the Pope greeted them saying, "I read what the children have written: 'peace', 'dignity', 'love'. We must work and pray and do everything for peace, but peace without love, friendship, tolerance and forgiveness is not possible. Each of us has to do something. I wish Central Africa find peace, great peace between you. May you live in peace whatever your ethnicity, culture, religion, social status. But everyone together, together, because we are all brothers and sisters". He repeated these words three times "we are all brothers and sisters". "And for that – Francis concluded, before giving his blessing - because we are all brothers and sisters we want peace".
From the Saint Etienne camp the Pope went to the nunciature, where he will have lunch with the bishops of Central Africa.