On the final day of his apostolic trip to Africa, Pope Francis visited the Central Mosque of Bangui Monday morning and told the Muslim community that Christians and Muslims must consider one another brothers and behave as such.
“Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters,” he said to the congregation gathered in the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR). “We must therefore consider ourselves and conduct ourselves as such.”
Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters, and we must act as such.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) November 30, 2015
“We know well that the recent events and the violence that have struck your country were not based on strictly religious motives,” he said, referring to the civil war in which the country finds itself embroiled since 2012.
“Whoever professes to believe in God must also be a man or woman of peace,” he said. “Christians, Muslims and members of traditional religions have lived together peacefully for many years.”
“Together let us say no to hatred, to revenge, to violence, especially when it is carried out in the name of a religion or in God’s name,” he said. “God is peace.”
In his own words of welcome, the Imam of the Central Mosque, Tidiani Moussa Naibi, assured Pope Francis that Christians and Muslims have lived together in peace in the CAR.
The Imam thanked Francis for his visit and said nothing could destroy “the bonds of brotherhood that unite our communities so solidly.”
“Yes,” he said, “Christians and Muslims in this country are condemned to live together and love one another.”
The Imam also said that the Pope’s visit to the Central African Republic was a sign that the outside world was aware and concerned about their situation.
“In return we would like you to reassure the world. No, the Central African people is not a people doomed to conflict and violence. No, the current situation of our country is not expected to last forever. It’s just a moment in our history. A painful moment and certainly an unfortunate moment, but only a moment,” he said.
In point of fact, instability has been a hallmark of the CAR ever since 1960, when it achieved independence from France, and the country has undergone a series of military coups and civil wars.
The CAR’s interreligious relations have been generally harmonious until fairly recently. The Christian majority and Muslim minority coexisted peacefully until March 2013, when the Muslim alliance called Seleka ousted the sitting president and seized power. Now the civil war has taken on a progressively more religious character.
Prior to the Pope’s visit, French security officials had warned the Vatican of serious threats to the Pope’s safety in the CAR and highlighted the real possibility of lone wolf jihadists among the crowds that will come out to greet the pontiff.
French intelligence services said the risk to the Pope was “not insignificant” and described the area of Bangui, the nation’s capital, as “highly unsafe in terms of security.”
In her welcome address at the presidential palace, acting President Catherine Samba-Panza said that the Pope had offered the people a lesson in courage by his mere presence, and that his visit was a “victory of faith over fear.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome