Pope arrives in Central Africa Republic

  • 30/11/2015
Pope Francis' opens the Holy Door at the Cathedral of Bangui, Central African Republic (Reuters)
Pope Francis' opens the Holy Door at the Cathedral of Bangui, Central African Republic (Reuters)

Pope Francis has landed in the conflict-ridden Central African Republic (CAR), flying in from Uganda to what is considered the most dangerous destination on his three-nation Africa tour.

He urged the warring factions in CAR to lay down their weapons as he brought a message of peace to a country ravaged by bloody sectarian violence.

"To all those who make unjust use of the weapons of this world, I make this appeal: lay down these instruments of death!" he said in the capital, Bangui, after flying in from Uganda on his final leg of the tour of Africa, which he has hailed "the continent of hope."

As his plane touched down, the waiting crowds burst into cheers and singing as he began a 24-hour visit to one of Africa's poorest and most unstable countries on a trip that has had his security detail working overtime.

For the short ride to the presidential palace in Bangui, Francis travelled in his open-topped popemobile, with huge crowds, many of them children and young people, cheering wildly as he passed, some waving branches in a sign of peace.

In a gesture likely to resonate deeply among the country's 1.7 million Catholics, who make up more than a third of the population, the 78-year-old opened a "holy door" during a mass at Bangui Cathedral, marking the symbolic start of a Jubilee year dedicated to forgiveness and reconciliation.

Until now, such a gesture has only ever taken place in the Church's headquarters in the Vatican or in Rome.

Earlier, he meet acting president Catherine Samba-Panza at the presidential palace who begged his forgiveness for the wave of "evil" sectarian violence that has devastated the country.

In his own address, Pope Francis called for unity, urging the people to avoid "the temptation of fear of others, of the unfamiliar, of what is not part of our ethnic group, our political views or our religious denomination."

He also said he hoped the upcoming elections would allow the country to peacefully begin a "new chapter".

The country descended into bloodshed more than two years ago after longtime Christian leader Francois Bozize was ousted by rebels from the mainly Muslim Seleka force, triggering the worst crisis since independence in 1960.