On November 25 through 30, Pope Francis visited Africa, his first visit to Africa since his election to the papacy. His trip consisted of three stops. The Pontiff’s first stop was in Kenya, where he remained from November 25 through 27. He then traveled to Uganda for the next two days and wrapped up his trip in the Central African Republic (CAR) on the 28th through the 30th. The pope’s visit to CAR is especially significant because it is the first time that he has visited an active war zone. According to ETWN there are new deaths being reported in the region daily. In a video released before his trip Pope Francis said to the people of CAR,“Your dear country has for too long been affected by a violent situation and by insecurity of which many of you have been innocent victims.” In a second video tailored towards the people of Kenya and Uganda, Pope Francis said of his upcoming visit, “I am coming as a minister of the Gospel, to proclaim the love of Jesus Christ and his message of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace.”
At his first stop in Kenya, Pope Francis spent much of his time addressing the nation’s youth. He also took time to answer questions posed to him by the youth about tribalism, division and corruption in the country, about which he said, “As in everything you have to make a start. If you don’t want corruption in lives, hearts and country, start now, yourselves. Because if you don’t start then the person that’s beside you won’t start.” The pope also reiterated his message of the importance of family while in Kenya and encouraged the people to “always defend your family.”
In Uganda, Pope Francis said Mass during his first full day in the central African nation. According to ETWN, the Mass was held in honor of the martyrs of Uganda, who were canonized 50 years prior. The martyrs—including Saint Charles Lwanga—and 21 other Ugandans, who were killed for converting to Christianity and refusing to renounce their new faith. In his homily, the Holy Father said, “Like the Apostles and the Uganda martyrs before us, we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit to become missionary disciples called to go forth and bring the Gospel to all.” He also called on the people of Uganda to let the Holy Spirit into their lives to help them forgive not only their families, but also their enemies. The pope added,” All these witnesses nurtured the gift of the Holy Spirit in their lives and freely gave testimony of their faith in Jesus Christ, even at the cost of their lives, many at such a young age.”
At Pope Francis’ final stop in CAR, he spent much of his time speaking about the current conflict and encouraging local leaders as well as citizens to work towards peace. The conflict began in 2012 when Muslim rebel groups, calling themselves Seleka, formed and began opposing the government of CAR. The pope said of his presence in the country, “As the Central African Republic progressively moves, in spite of difficulties, towards the normalization of its social and political life…I come as a pilgrim of peace and an apostle of hope.” Elections are scheduled for later in December to try to elect new leadership that will stabilize the government and bring an end to the violence. Pope Francis expressed hope that these elections would help, “To embark serenely on a new chapter of its [CAR’s] history.”
Also while in CAR, in a historic gesture, Pope Francis opened the diocese of Bangui’s Holy Door at Mass on November 29 to signal the start of the Jubilee of Mercy in the upcoming year. This was a historic move since this is the first time the Holy Door in Rome has not been opened to signal the start of a Jubilee year. The Jubilee for Mercy does not officially start until December 8, but the pope wanted to show solidarity and prayer for the Central African Republic not only through his words, but also through his actions.