Notwithstanding obvious challenges, Catholics and Protestants in the Central African Republic (CAR) are busy preparing for the visit of Pope Francis and parishioners have been contributing towards a fund for the visit, sources in CAR have told the Africa Service of Vatican Radio.
In the meantime, the Director of the Holy See Press Office Fr. Federico Lombardi has said that Pope Francis is aware of the security challenges characterising his visit to Africa and in particular to the Central African Republic. The Pope is proceeding with the Apostolic visit to CAR because of his great desire to encourage peace and reconciliation in that country. While in CAR, Pope Francis will not wear a bulletproof vest or use an armoured Pope-mobile. Fr. Lombardi was speaking Thursday in the Vatican at a press briefing about the Holy Father’s visit to Africa.
Asked how the visit to Bangui’s Central Mosque (said to be a very dangerous part of the Pope’s itinerary) would be handled, Fr. Lombardi said he was not a security expert.
“I don’t have a crystal ball to foresee what can or cannot happen. I am not a local security expert to give you a detailed security brief,” he said.
He continued, “The Holy Father is proceeding with plans to visit the Central African Republic and the Holy See is working towards that. However, as any prudent person would do, we continue to monitor the situation,” Fr. Lombardi said.
Asked further if the recent terrorist events in Paris would influence the Apostolic visit to Africa, Fr. Lombardi said the situation in Paris had brought about a climate of great attention to the Apostolic visit in Africa but did not appear to have visibly changed the situation in CAR. It is precisely for this reason that Pope Francis wants to go there to promote peace and reconciliation.
Fr. Lombardi clarified that the Holy See was aware that the situation in CAR was not ideal right from the start and that it has been and was monitoring the situation continuously. He added, however, “If you look at the many trips of Pope Saint John Paul II, you will find that he did travel to countries and places which had worrying levels of tension and strife at the time. So, save for some serious threat in CAR, the Apostolic visit should go ahead as planned,” he reiterated.
And Catholics in the Central African Republic are also busy preparing for the visit. Sources in CAR have told the Africa Service of Vatican Radio that as at the end of October, parishioners at the main Cathedral in Bangui had contributed an equivalent of about 47 000 Euro while their Protestant counterparts had contributed about 17 000 Euro towards preparations for the Holy Father’s visit to their country.
Although the violence in the Central African Republic is often depicted as having religious undertones between Muslims and Christians, the conflict is multifaceted. Greed for the nation’s resources also plays a big part in the conflict that has claimed thousands of lives and created a serious humanitarian crisis. The CAR is among the world’s leading producers of rough diamonds by volume and by value. Undeveloped mineral resources include copper, graphite, manganese, salt, tin, and uranium to name but a few.
So what started off as a coup d'état to topple former President François Bozizé transformed from a situation of political conflict to a religious conflict to Seleka rebels trying to control the mining regions. Then there are the multinationals supported by their governments in Europe, Asia and some African countries, all wanting a stake in the riches of CAR. As the researchers Christoph Vogel and Joschka Havenith have proposed, the CAR can be said to be a, “A ‘mess’ of intertwined, related and opposing interests, strategies and actors.
(Fr. Paul Samasumo, VR)