Despite violence, Pope Francis hopes to visit Central African Republic

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VATICAN CITY - Despite ongoing violence in the Central African Republic, Pope Francis said he hopes to be able to visit the country in late November and to anticipate the Year of Mercy by opening the Holy Door of the cathedral in Bangui, the nation's capital.

"The painful episodes that have aggravated the delicate situation in the Central African Republic in recent days have given rise to deep concern," the pope said Nov. 1 after reciting the Angelus prayer with visitors in St. Peter's Square.

"I appeal to all parties involved to put an end to this cycle of violence," Pope Francis added.

The country has been the scene of fighting since a coup in March 2013. Although religious leaders insist the conflict is political and ethnic, the fighting has divided the country on religious lines as well, despite joint efforts by Christian and Muslim leaders to work together for peace.

The latest wave of violence began in September with the murder of a Muslim taxi driver, which was avenged by the murders of Christians. In late October, three Muslims taking part in peace talks on behalf of the Seleka rebels were killed as they entered a Christian area of the capital.

"To demonstrate the prayerful closeness of the entire church with this afflicted and tormented nation and to exhort all Central Africans to be better witnesses of mercy and reconciliation," Pope Francis said, "I plan to open the Holy Door of the cathedral in Bangui Sunday, Nov. 29, during the apostolic trip I hope to be able to make to this nation."

L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, reported Oct. 28 that because of the violence "a tenth of the country's population - about half a million people - have been forced to seek refuge outside the country, mainly in Cameroon, Chad, Congo and the Republic of Congo." The newspaper also cited UNICEF reports that as many as 10,000 children and teenagers have been recruited by armed groups.

Speaking Nov. 1, Pope Francis offered special thanks to the Comboni missionaries at Our Lady of Fatima parish in Bangui for welcoming displaced people and he expressed his solidarity with "the church, the other religious confessions and the entire Central African nation, so harshly tried as they make every effort to overcome the divisions and relaunch the journey toward peace."

Pope Francis is scheduled to begin his first papal trip to Africa Nov. 25 in Kenya. He is scheduled to fly to Uganda Nov. 27 and on to Central African Republic Nov. 29 for a two-day stay.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015