On the second day of his historic trip to Africa, Pope Francis denounced the recruitment of young people for violence and terrorism by radical Islamists.
At an interreligious meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, Francis said that God’s “holy Name must never be used to justify hatred and violence,” urging his hearers to preach a God of peace rather than a God of aggression and terror.
“I know that the barbarous attacks on Westgate Mall, Garissa University College, and Mandera are fresh in your minds,” Francis said. “All too often, young people are being radicalized in the name of religion to sow discord and fear, and to tear at the very fabric of our societies.”
The ISIS-affiliated jihadist group Boko Haram has, in fact, moved toward the recruitment of young people in Africa, often using young girls as suicide bombers since they draw less suspicion and can often infiltrate public areas where other militants cannot.
Earlier this month, two young girls between the ages of 13 and 15 blew themselves up in a town in northern Cameroon, killing three civilians. These attacks occurred just 24 hours after two young suicide bombers killed two and injured 14 more across the border in Chad.
“In the beginning, Boko Haram militias arrived with guns or knives, killed and left,” said Mahamat Ahmat, head of security of the refugee camp Dar es Salam. “For weeks now, they have been carrying out suicide bombings, often using women and girls.”
In October, three young female suicide bombers blew up between 40-60 worshippers at a mosque in northeastern Nigeria.
Thursday, Pope Francis urged the interreligious group to uphold “our common conviction that the God whom we seek to serve is a God of peace.”
“How important it is that we be seen as prophets of peace, peacemakers who invite others to live in peace, harmony, and mutual respect! May the Almighty touch the hearts of those who engage in this violence, and grant His peace to our families and communities,” he said.
Security officials have expressed deep concern for the Pope’s safety on his three-nation visit to Africa, given the state of unrest and the active presence of violent jihadists in the region.
French intelligence agents have warned of a high risk of an attack, especially in the Central African Republic, which is in the midst of civil war, and underscored the real possibility of lone wolf jihadists among the crowds that will come out to greet the Pontiff.
Despite threats of Islamic State violence, the Pope decided not to change his program, emphasizing that he was journeying as a “messenger of peace,” and that he wished to promote mutual understanding and respect regardless of creed or ethnicity.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.