Pope Francis has arrived in the Central African Republic, the final leg of his first Apostolic Visit to Africa, after having visited Kenya and Uganda.
The Pontiff arrived at the M’poko International Airport in the war-torn nation’s capital of Bangui around 10 a.m. local time, after a nearly three-hour flight from Uganda, and has a full agenda ahead of him. Today, he will meet with authorities and the diplomatic corps, visit the St. Sauveur refugee camp, and privately meet with the nation’s bishops. Tomorrow, will meet with a Muslim community in a mosque and celebrate Mass in Barthelemy Boganda Stadium. A highlight of his visit to the country will be opening the Holy Door of the city’s cathedral before the inauguration of the Jubilee of Mercy, set to begin December 8th in the Vatican.
There was speculation that this leg of the visit would be canceled due to security concerns.
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.
During the arrival ceremony, Pope Francis was welcomed by the Head of State of the transitional government of the Central African Republic, Ms. Catherine Samba-Panza, and Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Franco Coppola, along with other authorities, bishops, and faithful. After anthems, each official presented their delegations.
The Pope and Head of State met together briefly in the presidential lounge of the airport, before the Pontiff payed her a courtesy visit at the presidential palace. The transitional head of state and Francis went to her private study for a meeting, while, at the same time, the Vatican delegation met with officials of CAR’s government. After the private meeting, the political leader’s family was introduced to the Pope and the traditional exchange of gifts took place.