Christians & Muslims Welcome Pope Francis To Central African Republic

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Pope Francis arrived Sunday in the conflict-torn Central
African Republic, brushing aside security concerns to bring a message of peace
and reconciliation to a country where violence between Christian and Muslim
militants has forced nearly 1 million from their homes over the last two years
and divided the capital city.
Schoolgirls in yellow and white dresses, the colors of the
Holy See flag, both majority Christians and the Muslim minority, joined
government and church authorities to welcome Francis both majority Christians
and the Muslim minority
at the heavily secured Bangui airport. The pope’s Alitalia
charter landed just beyond the settlement for displaced residents that has
cropped up on the airport’s edge, housing some of the people displaced by the
violence.

As Francis emerged, a huge cheer broke out from the small
crowd and the cheers continued along his motorcade route into town, where he
was welcomed by Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza and the diplomatic
corps.
The precarious security situation in Bangui, the capital,
raised the possibility in recent weeks that the pope could cancel his visit.
Less than a year ago, mobs beat Muslims to death in the streets, even
decapitating and dismembering some. While sectarian clashes have left at least
100 people dead over the last two months, in recent days Bangui has been
relatively free of gunfire.
Many hope that the pope’s message of peace and
reconciliation can encourage longer-term stability in this nation of 4.8
million.
Samba-Panza told reporters Saturday that the pope is being
welcomed as a “peace messenger.”
“Many Central Africans hope that the messages he will
deliver will inspire a national mobilization and realization that Central
Africans learn to accept each other again, learn to live together again and
learn to go toward peace and reconstruction of their country,” she said.

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