Global Cooperation

What was on the Pope’s Africa agenda?

Rosamond Hutt
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Pope Francis has wrapped up his three-nation Africa tour by delivering a message of peace and reconciliation. His visit to the Central African Republic (CAR) was the first time the Pope has visited an active war zone, and was one of the final stops on a trip aimed at healing rifts between Christians and Muslims on the continent. These are some of the biggest issues the Pontiff tackled on his tour of Kenya, Uganda and CAR.

Peace between Muslims and Christians

With more than 170 million Catholics in sub-Saharan Africa, and the number of both Catholics and Muslims projected to increase dramatically over the next 35 years, the continent is an important region for the Catholic Church.

1511B7-Pope Africa tour Catholics Pew

 

Source: Pew Research Center

The Pope’s call for peace between Christian and Muslim communities has been a theme throughout his first visit to Africa. However, it was particularly compelling in CAR, where thousands have died and hundreds of thousands have been displaced in a three-year conflict that has divided the country along religious lines.

In Kenya, his first stop, he set the tone for the tour with his speech urging Kenyans to work for peace and forgiveness amid ethnic, religious and economic divisions.

Kenya has seen a wave of attacks by Somali Islamic militant group al-Shabab, including the massacre of at least 67 people inside Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall two years ago. In Uganda, his next stop, al-Shabab bombed sports bars in Kampala, where fans were watching the 2010 football World Cup on TV.

In what was perceived to be the biggest security risk of his papacy, Francis visited the Koudoukou mosque in the PK5 neighbourhood of CAR’s capital Bangui. Muslims who have not already fled the city have sought refuge in the district, which is surrounded by Christian militias.

In a mark of respect, the Pope took off his shoes and bowed towards the holy Muslim city of Mecca before calling for an end to religious violence.

“Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters,” he said. “Together, we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, particularly that which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself.”

He said his visit to CAR “would not be complete if it did not include this encounter with the Muslim community.”

Before flying back to Rome, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in a sports stadium in Bangui. He called on fighting factions to lay down their weapons and said they should arm themselves “with justice, love, mercy and authentic peace”.

Poverty

In Kenya, where 75% of wealth is owned by around 1% of the population, the Pope visited the slum of Kangemi, on the outskirts of Nairobi, which is home to around 100,000 people.

In his first speech, the Pope, who has been hailed as a champion of the poor, highlighted the relationship between poverty and violence: “Experience shows that violence, conflict and terrorism feed on fear, mistrust, and the despair born of poverty and frustration.”

151130-pope francis quote card violence terrorism fear poverty

He said it is a serious problem when people do not have access to infrastructure or basic services. Electricity, schools, roads and hospitals are human rights, he said. He blamed “a selfish minority” for holding power and wealth that makes others poor.

Climate change

Last Thursday, ahead of the start of the UN climate change talks in Paris, Pope Francis spoke in Nairobi to the UN’s Environment Programme. He called for immediate action to halt global warming and said it would be catastrophic if nothing is done to stop climate change.

His encyclical on the environment, released earlier this year, stirred up controversy among big business with its warning that we risk turning the earth into a “vast pile of filth” by abusing the planet.

Speaking in Nairobi, he said: “In this international context, we are confronted with a choice which cannot be ignored: either to improve or to destroy the environment.

“In a few days, an important meeting on climate change will be held in Paris. It would be sad, and I dare say even catastrophic, were particular interests to prevail over the common good.”

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Author: Rosamond Hutt is a Senior Producer at Formative Content. 

Image: Pope Francis arrives to lead a mass at the Bangui stadium, Central African Republic, November 30, 2015. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini 

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