Saying he came to the Central African Republic as ‘a pilgrim of peace and an apostle of hope,’ like his predecessor St. John Paul II, Pope Francis gave the war-plagued country’s authorities and diplomatic corps the three-point ‘compass,’ grounded in CAR’s motto, needed to properly guide their nation’s future.
The Pontiff had arrived at the M’poko International Airport in the African nation’s capital of Bangui around 10 a.m. local time today, after a nearly three-hour flight from Uganda, and has a full agenda ahead of him. This morning’s meeting with authorities and the diplomatic corps followed his courtesy visit to the presidential palace of the transitional head of state and preceded his visit to the St. Sauveur refugee camp,which houses nearly 4,000 who have been displaced by the nation’s violence.
The Central African Republic, which gained independence from France in 1960, is one of the poorest nations in the world. It has been plagued by ethnic and religious violence over the past two years. Tens of thousands have been forced to flee the country to neighboring nations due to this war between majority Muslim Séléka forces and the majority Christian anti-Balaka. The United Nations has warned that there was high risk of the country descending into genocide.
To brighten the horizon, the Holy Father began his remarks, recalling the motto of the Central African Republic, “which translates the hope of pioneers and the dream of the founding fathers”: Unity-Dignity-Labour. Today, more than ever, he said, this trilogy expresses the aspirations of each Central African, and consequently, is “a sure compass for the authorities called to guide the destiny of the country.”
These are three very significant words, he said, highlighting “each of which represents as much a building project as a unending program, something to be ceaselessly crafted.”
The Pope’s first significant word, he noted, was unity, which he stressed is a cardinal value for the harmony of peoples. “It is to be lived and built up on the basis of the marvelous diversity of our environment,” he said, “avoiding the temptation of fear of others, of the unfamiliar, of what is not part of our ethnic group, our political views or our religious confession.”
Unity, on the contrary, he pointed out, calls for creating and promoting a synthesis of the richness which each person has to offer. He stressed that unity in diversity is a constant challenge, which demands creativity, generosity, self-sacrifice and respect for others.
Dignity, he said, is the second word and is a moral value which is rightly synonymous with the honesty, loyalty, graciousness and honor, which characterize men and women conscious of their rights and duties, and which lead them to mutual respect.
“Each person has dignity,” he stressed, adding, “Those who have the means to enjoy a decent life, rather than being concerned with privileges, must seek to help those poorer than themselves to attain dignified living conditions, particularly through the development of their human, cultural, economic and social potential. Consequently, access to education and to health care, the fight against malnutrition and efforts to ensure decent housing for everyone must be at the forefront of a development concerned for human dignity. “
“In effect, our human dignity is expressed by our working for the dignity of our fellow man,” he said.
Speaking on the third word of labor, he observed, that it is by working that you are able to improve the lives of your families. Saint Paul tells us that “children ought not to lay up for their parents, but parents for their children” (2 Cor 12:14). “The work of parents expresses their love for their children. And you again, Central Africans, can improve this marvelous land by wisely exploiting its many resources. Your country is located in a region considered to be one of the two lungs of mankind on account of its exceptionally rich biodiversity.”
Dawn of New Age
Recalling his Encyclical ‘Laudato Si’, he said, I would like particularly to draw the attention of everyone, citizens and national leaders, international partners and multinational societies, to their grave responsibility in making use of environmental resources, in development decisions and projects which in any way affect the entire planet. “The work of building a prosperous society must be a cooperative effort,” he said, noting,”The wisdom of your people has long understood this truth, as seen in the proverb: ‘The ants are little, but since they are so many, they can bring their hoard home.’”
The Pontiff stressed to the authorities that he does not doubt that the Central African authorities, present and future, will work tirelessly to ensure that the Church enjoys favorable conditions for the fulfillment of her spiritual mission. These efforts, he noted, contribute to the encouragement and confirmation of the continent in goodness at the dawn of a new age.
The Holy Father also expressed his appreciation for the efforts made by the international community, represented there by the diplomatic corps and members of the various missions of the international organizations, and encouraged them to continue along the path of solidarity, “in the hope that their commitment, together with the activity of the Central African authorities, will help the country to advance, especially in the areas of reconciliation, disarmament, peacekeeping, health care and the cultivation of a sound administration at all levels.”
Pope Francis concluded, observing, “Here I see a country filled with God’s gifts!” and praying that the Central African people always appreciate the value of these gifts by working ceaselessly for unity, human dignity and a peace based on justice.
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