Pope Francis has returned from Africa, after making a dramatic appeal for peace in the Central African Republic. Here are the main papal addresses from yesterday and today.
(1) Texts from Sunday November 29
1a Pope Francis address to political leaders and diplomats, Bangui Presidential Palace
I am happy to be here with you. I would first like to express my appreciation for your warm hospitality and to thank Madam Interim Head of State for her kind words of welcome. In this place, which is in some sense the home of all Central Africans, I am pleased to express, through you and the other authorities of the country present, my affection and spiritual closeness to all your fellow citizens. I would like also to greet the members of the Diplomatic Corps and the representatives of the International Organizations, whose work recalls the ideal of solidarity and cooperation which needs to be cultivated between peoples and nations.
As the Central African Republic progressively moves, in spite of difficulties, towards the normalization of its social and political life, I come to this land for the first time, following my predecessor Saint John Paul II. I come as a pilgrim of peace and an apostle of hope. For this reason, I express my appreciation of the efforts made by the different national and international authorities, beginning with Madam Interim Head of State, to guide the country to this point. It is my fervent wish that the various national consultations to be held in coming weeks will enable the country to embark serenely on new chapter of its history.
To brighten the horizon, there is 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, this trilogy expresses the aspirations of each Central African. Consequently, it is a sure compass for the authorities called to guide the destiny of the country. Unity, dignity, labour! Three very significant words, each of which represents as much a building project as a unending programme, something to be ceaselessly crafted.
First unity. This, we know, is a cardinal value for the harmony of peoples. It is to be lived and built up on the basis of the marvellous diversity of our environment, 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, calls for creating and promoting a synthesis of the richness which each person has to offer. Unity in diversity is a constant challenge, one which demands creativity, generosity, self-sacrifice and respect for others.
Then, dignity. This moral value is rightly synonymous with the honesty, loyalty, graciousness and honour which characterize men and women conscious of their rights and duties, and which lead them to mutual respect. Each person has dignity. I was interested to learn that Central Africa is the country of the “Zo kwe zo”, the country where everbody is somebody. Everything must be done to protect the status and dignity of the human person. 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.
Finally, labour. 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 marvellous 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. In this regard, echoing my Encyclical Laudato Si’, 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. 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”.
It is no doubt superfluous to underline the capital importance of upright conduct and administration on the part of public authorities. They must be the first to embody consistently the values of unity, dignity and labour, serving as models for their compatriots.
The history of the evangelization of this land and the sociopolitical history of this country attest to the commitment of the Church in promoting the values of unity, dignity and labour. In recalling the pioneers of evangelization in the Central African Republic, I greet my brother bishops, who now carry on this work. With them, I express once more the readiness of the local Church to contribute even more to the promotion of the common good, particularly by working for peace and reconciliation. I do not doubt that the Central African authorities, present and future, will work tirelessly to ensure that the Church enjoys favourable conditions for the fulfilment of her spiritual mission. In this way she will be able to contribute increasingly to “promoting the good of every man and of the whole man” (Populorum Progressio, 14), to use the felicitous expression of my predecessor, Blessed Paul VI, who fifty years ago was the first Pope of modern times to come to Africa, to encourage and confirm the continent in goodness at the dawn of a new age.
For my part, I express my appreciation for the efforts made by the international community, represented here by the Diplomatic Corps and the members of the various Missions of the International Organizations. I heartily encourage 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.
To conclude, I would like to express once more my joy to visit this marvellous country, located in the heart of Africa, home to a people profoundly religious and blessed with so such natural and cultural richness. Here I see a country filled with God’s gifts! May the Central African people, its leaders and its partners, always appreciate the value of these gifts by working ceaselessly for unity, human dignity and a peace based on justice. May God bless you all! Thank you.
1b Address of Pope Francis to Evangelical Communities at the Bangui Faculty of Evangelical Theology (November 29)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am happy to be able to meet you in this Faculty of Evangelical Theology. I thank the Dean of the Faculty and the President of the Evangelical Alliance of Central Africa for their kind words of welcome With fraternal affection I greet each of you and, through you, all the members of your communities. All of us are here in the service of the risen Lord who assembles us today; and, by virtue of the common baptism we have received, we are sent to proclaim the joy of the Gospel to men and women of this beloved country of Central Africa.
For all too long, your people have experienced troubles and violence, resulting in great suffering. This makes the proclamation of the Gospel all the more necessary and urgent. For it is Christ’s own flesh which suffers in his dearest sons and daughters: the poorest of his people, the infirm, the elderly, the abandoned, children without parents or left to themselves without guidance and education. There are also those who have been scarred in soul or body by hatred and violence, those whom war has deprived of everything: work, home and loved ones.
God makes no distinctions between those who suffer. I have often called this the ecumenism of blood. All our communities suffer indiscriminately as a result of injustice and the blind hatred unleashed by the devil. Here I wish to express my closeness and solidarity to Pastor Nicholas, whose home was recently ransacked and set on fire, as was the meeting-place of his community. In these difficult circumstances, the Lord keeps asking us to demonstrate to everyone his tenderness, compassion and mercy. This shared suffering and shared mission are a providential opportunity for us to advance together on the path of unity; they are also an indispensable spiritual aid. How could the Father refuse the grace of unity, albeit still imperfect, to his children who suffer together and, in different situations, join in serving their brothers and sisters?
Dear friends, the lack of unity among Christians is a scandal, above all because it is contrary to God’s will. It is also a scandal when we consider the hatred and violence which are tearing humanity apart, and the many forms of opposition which the Gospel of Christ encounters. I appreciate the spirit of mutual respect and cooperation existing between the Christians of your country, and I encourage you to continue on this path of common service in charity. It is a witness to Christ which builds up unity.
With increasing intensity and courage, may you add to perseverance and charity, a commitment to prayer and common reflection, as you seek to achieve greater mutual understanding, trust and friendship in view of that full communion for which we firmly hope.
I assure you of my prayerful support along the path of fraternal charity, reconciliation and mercy, a path which is long, yet full of joy and hope. May God bless you! May he bless your communities!
1c Pope Francis homily at Mass at Bangui Cathedral (5pm)
On this first Sunday of Advent, the liturgical season of joyful expectation of the Saviour and a symbol of Christian hope, God has brought me here among you, in this land, while the universal Church is preparing for the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. I am especially pleased that my pastoral visit coincides with the opening of this Jubilee Year in your country. From this cathedral I reach out, in mind and heart, and with great affection, to all the priests, consecrated men and women, and pastoral workers of the nation, who are spiritually united with us at this moment. Through you, I would greet all the people of the Central African Republic: the sick, the elderly, those who have experienced life’s hurts. Some of them are perhaps despairing and listless, asking only for alms, the alms of bread, the alms of justice, the alms of attention and goodness.
But like the Apostles Peter and John on their way to the Temple, who had neither gold nor silver to give to the paralytic in need, I have come to offer God’s strength and power; for these bring us healing, set us on our feet and enable us to embark on a new life, to “go across to the other side” (cf. Lk 8:22).
Jesus does not make us cross to the other side alone; instead, he asks us to make the crossing with him, as each of us responds to his or her own specific vocation. We need to realize that making this crossing can only be done with him, by freeing ourselves of divisive notions of family and blood in order to build a Church which is God’s family, open to everyone, concerned for those most in need. This presupposes closeness to our brothers and sisters; it implies a spirit of communion. It is not primarily a question of financial means; it is enough just to share in the life of God’s people, in accounting for the hope which is in us (cf. 1 Pet 3:15), in testifying to the infinite mercy of God who, as the Responsorial Psalm of this Sunday’s liturgy makes clear, is “good [and] instructs sinners in the way” (Ps 24:8). Jesus teaches us that our heavenly Father “makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good” (Mt 5:45). Having experienced forgiveness ourselves, we must forgive others in turn. This is our fundamental vocation: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).
One of the essential characteristics of this vocation to perfection is the love of our enemies, which protects us from the temptation to seek revenge and from the spiral of endless retaliation. Jesus placed special emphasis on this aspect of the Christian testimony (cf. Mt 5:46-47). Those who evangelize must therefore be first and foremost practitioners of forgiveness, specialists in reconciliation, experts in mercy. This is how we can help our brothers and sisters to “cross to the other side” – by showing them the secret of our strength, our hope, and our joy, all of which have their source in God, for they are grounded in the certainty that he is in the boat with us. As he did with the apostles at the multiplication of the loaves, so too the Lord entrusts his gifts to us, so that we can go out and distribute them everywhere, proclaiming his reassuring words: “Behold, the days are coming when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Jer 33:14).
In the readings of this Sunday’s liturgy, we can see different aspects of this salvation proclaimed by God; they appear as signposts to guide us on our mission. First of all, the happiness promised by God is presented as justice. Advent is a time when we strive to open our hearts to receive the Saviour, who alone is just and the sole Judge able to give to each his or her due. Here as elsewhere, countless men and women thirst for respect, for justice, for equality, yet see no positive signs on the horizon. These are the ones to whom he comes to bring the gift of his justice (cf. Jer 33:15). He comes to enrich our personal and collective histories, our dashed hopes and our sterile yearnings. And he sends us to proclaim, especially to those oppressed by the powerful of this world or weighed down by the burden of their sins, that “Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it shall be called, ‘The Lord is our righteousness’” (Jer 33:16). Yes, God is righteousness; God is justice. This, then, is why we Christians are called in the world to work for a peace founded on justice.
The salvation of God which we await is also flavoured with love. In preparing for the mystery of Christmas, we relive the pilgrimage which prepared God’s people to receive the Son, who came to reveal that God is not only righteousness, but also and above all love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8). In every place, even and especially in those places where violence, hatred, injustice and persecution hold sway, Christians are called to give witness to this God who is love. In encouraging the priests, consecrated men and woman, and committed laity who, in this country live, at times heroically, the Christian virtues, I realize that the distance between this demanding ideal and our Christian witness is at times great. For this reason I echo the prayer of Saint Paul: “Brothers and sisters, may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men and women” (1 Th 3:12). Thus what the pagans said of the early Christians will always remain before us like a beacon: “See how they love one another, how they truly love one another” (Tertullian, Apology, 39,7).
Finally, the salvation proclaimed by God has an invincible power which will make it ultimately prevail. After announcing to his disciples the terrible signs that will precede his coming, Jesus concludes: “When these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Lk 21:28). If Saint Paul can speak of a love which “grows and overflows”, it is because Christian witness reflects that irresistible power spoken of in the Gospel. It is amid unprecedented devastation that Jesus wishes to show his great power, his incomparable glory (cf. Lk 21:27) and the power of that love which stops at nothing, even before the falling of the heavens, the conflagration of the world or the tumult of the seas. God is stronger than all else. This conviction gives to the believer serenity, courage and the strength to persevere in good amid the greatest hardships. Even when the powers of Hell are unleashed, Christians must rise to the summons, their heads held high, and be ready to brave blows in this battle over which God will have the last word. And that word will be love!
To all those who make unjust use of the weapons of this world, I make this appeal: lay down these instruments of death! Arm yourselves instead with righteousness, with love and mercy, the authentic guarantors of peace. As followers of Christ, dear priests, religious and lay pastoral workers, here in this country, with its suggestive name, situated in the heart of Africa and called to discover the Lord as the true centre of all that is good, your vocation is to incarnate the very heart of God in the midst of your fellow citizens. May the Lord deign to “strengthen your hearts in holiness, that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Th 3:13). Amen.
1d Pope Francis’ Unscripted Address at Prayer Vigil in Bangui (November 29) following Mass at the cathedral (transcription: Zenit)
I greet you with my deepest affection. This young person who has spoken in your name has said that the banana tree is your symbol. The banana is a symbol of life that grows, reproduces and gives its fruit with so much nutritional energy. The banana is resistant; I think this clearly indicates the path that is set out in this difficult moment, of war, hate, division. The path of resistance.
This friend said that some of you want to leave. To flee from challenges is never a solution. Resistance is needed. To have the courage of resistance and of fighting for good. One who escapes doesn’t have the courage to give life.
The banana tree gives life and reproduces and gives more life because it stays in place. Some of you ask me: What can we do? What do we need to do to resist? I’ll give you two or three ideas that can be useful for this resistance.
First of all is prayer, because it is powerful. Prayer overcomes evil. Prayer brings one close to God who is All-Powerful. I ask you, do you pray? Don’t forget this.
Second, work for peace, and peace is not a document that is signed and then put up some place. Peace is made each day. Peace is a craft, a handiwork. It’s made with the hands. Someone could ask me, “Father, how can I be a craftsman of peace?”
Never hate. And if someone does evil, seek to forgive him. Nothing of hate. A lot of forgiveness. The two things go together: nothing of hate, a lot of forgiveness. If you don’t have hate in your heart, if you forgive, you will be the victor, because you will be victors in the most difficult battle of life, victors in love. And through love comes peace.
Do you want to be losers or winners in life? Which do you want? (They respond, “Winners!”) You only win on the path of love, on the path of love. And is it possible to love an enemy? Yes. Can one who has done evil be forgiven? Yes. Like this, with love and with forgiveness, you will be victorious. You will be victors in life; love will never leave you defeated.
I wish the best for you. Think of the banana, of resistance when faced with difficulties. To flee, to escape isn’t the solution. You have to be courageous. Do you understand what it means to be courageous? Courageous in forgiveness, courageous in love, courageous in building peace.
Do you agree? Let’s say it together: Courageous in forgiveness, in love, in peace. (The crowd responds).
Dear Central African youth, I am so pleased to meet with you. Today, we have opened this Door, [the Holy Door of the cathedral for the Jubilee of Mercy] it signifies the door of God’s mercy. Trust in God, because he is merciful. He is love. He is able to give us peace. And that’s why I said a bit ago that it is necessary to pray in order to resist, to love, to not hate, to be craftsmen of peace.
Thank you for being here. Now, I will go inside to hear the confessions of some of you. Are your hearts ready to resist? Yes or no? (The crowd responds.)
Are your hearts ready to fight for peace? (The crowd responds.) Are your hearts ready to forgive? (The crowd responds.) Are your hearts ready for reconciliation? (The crowd responds.) Are your hearts ready to love this beautiful homeland? (The crowd responds.) And I go back to the beginning, are your hearts ready to pray?
Now, I ask you as well that you pray for me, so that I can be a good bishop, so that I can be a good Pope. Will you promise me that you’ll pray for me? Now, I give you the blessing, to you and to your families, asking the Lord that he gives you love and peace.
(2) Texts from Monday 30 November
2a Pope Francis address to Muslims, Banqui Central Mosque
Dear Muslim friends, leaders and followers of Islam,
It is a great joy for me to be with you and I thank you for your warm welcome. In a particular way I thank Imam Tidiani Moussa Naibi for his kind words of greeting. My Pastoral Visit to the Central African Republic would not be complete if it did not include this encounter with the Muslim community.
Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters. We must therefore consider ourselves and conduct ourselves as such. We are well aware that the recent events and acts of violence which have shaken your country were not grounded in properly religious motives. Those who claim to believe in God must also be men and women of peace. Christians, Muslims and members of the traditional religions have lived together in peace for many years. They ought, therefore, to remain united in working for an end to every act which, from whatever side, disfigures the Face of God and whose ultimate aim is to defend particular interests by any and all means, to the detriment of the common good. Together, we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself. God is peace, salam.
In these dramatic times, Christian and Muslim leaders have sought to rise to the challenges of the moment. They have played an important role in re-establishing harmony and fraternity among all. I would like express my gratitude and appreciation for this. We can also call to mind the many acts of solidarity which Christians and Muslims have shown with regard to their fellow citizens of other religious confessions, by welcoming them and defending them during this latest crisis in your country, as well as in other parts of the world.
We cannot fail to express hope that the forthcoming national consultations will provide the country with leaders capable of bringing Central Africans together, thus becoming symbols of national unity rather than merely representatives of one or another faction. I strongly urge you to make your country a welcoming home for all its children, regardless of their ethnic origin, political affiliation or religious confession. The Central African Republic, situated in the heart of Africa, with the cooperation of all her sons and daughters, will then prove a stimulus in this regard to the entire continent. It will prove a positive influence and help extinguish the smouldering tensions which prevent Africans from benefitting from that development which they deserve and to which they have a right.
Dear friends, I invite you to pray and work for reconciliation, fraternity and solidarity among all people, without forgetting those who have suffered the most as a result of recent events.
May God bless you and protect you!
2b Pope Francis homily, Mass at Barthélémy Boganda Stadium, Bangui
We might be astonished, listening to this morning’s first reading, by the enthusiasm and missionary drive of Saint Paul. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Rom 10:15). These words inspire us to give thanks for the gift of the faith which we have received. They also inspire us to reflect with amazement on the great missionary effort which – not long ago – first brought the joy of the Gospel to this beloved land of Central Africa. It is good, especially in times of difficulty, trials and suffering, when the future is uncertain and we feel weary and apprehensive, to come together before the Lord. To come together, as we do today, to rejoice in his presence and in the new life and the salvation which he offers us. For he invites us to cross over to another shore (cf. Lk 8:22).
This other shore is, of course, eternal life, heaven, which awaits us. Looking towards the world to come has always been a source of strength for Christians, of the poor, of the least, on their earthly pilgrimage. Eternal life is not an illusion; it is not a flight from the world. It is a powerful reality which calls out to us and challenges us to persevere in faith and love.
But the more immediate other shore, which we are trying to reach, this salvation secured by the faith of which Saint Paul speaks, is a reality which even now is transforming our lives and the world around us. “Faith in the heart leads to justification” (Rom 10:10). Those who believe receive the very life of Christ, which enables them to love God and their brothers and sisters in a new way and to bring to birth a world renewed by love.
Let us thank the Lord for his presence and for the strength which he gives us in our daily lives, at those times when we experience physical and spiritual suffering, pain, and grief. Let us thank him for the acts of solidarity and generosity which he inspires in us, for the joy and love with which he fills our families and our communities, despite the suffering and violence we sometimes experience, and our fears for the future. Let us thank him for his gift of courage, which inspires us to forge bonds of friendship, to dialogue with those who are different than ourselves, to forgive those who have wronged us, and to work to build a more just and fraternal society in which no one is abandoned. In all these things, the Risen Christ takes us by the hand and guides us. I join you in thanking the Lord in his mercy for all the beautiful, generous and courageous things he has enabled you to accomplish in your families and communities during these eventful years in the life of your country.
Yet the fact is that we have not yet reached our destination. In a certain sense we are in midstream, needing the courage to decide, with renewed missionary zeal, to pass to the other shore. All the baptized need to continually break with the remnants of the old Adam, the man of sin, ever ready to rise up again at the prompting of the devil. How often this happens in our world and in these times of conflict, hate and war! How easy it is to be led into selfishness, distrust, violence, destructiveness, vengeance, indifference to and exploitation of those who are most vulnerable…
We know that our Christian communities, called to holiness, still have a long way to go. Certainly we need to beg the Lord’s forgiveness for our all too frequent reluctance and hesitation in bearing witness to the Gospel. May the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which has just begun in your country, be an occasion to do so. Dear Central Africans, may you look to the future and, strengthened by the distance you have already come, resolutely determine to begin a new chapter in the Christian history of your country, to set out towards new horizons, to put out into the deep. The Apostle Andrew, with his brother Peter, did not hesitate to leave everything at Christ’s call: “Immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Mt 4:20). Once again, we are amazed at the great enthusiasm of the Apostles. Christ drew them so closely to himself, that they felt able to do everything and to risk everything with him.
Each of us, in his or her heart, can ask the crucial question of where we stand with Jesus, asking what we have already accepted – or refused to accept – in responding to his call to follow him more closely. The cry of “those who bring good news” resounds all the more in our ears, precisely when times are difficult; that cry which “goes out through all the earth… to the ends of the earth” (Rom 10:18; cf. Ps 19:4). And it resounds here, today, in this land of Central Africa. It resounds in our hearts, our families, our parishes, wherever we live. It invites us to persevere in enthusiasm for mission, for that mission which needs new “bearers of good news”, ever more numerous, generous, joyful and holy. We are all called to be, each of us, these messengers whom our brothers and sisters of every ethnic group, religion and culture, await, often without knowing it. For how can our brothers and sisters believe in Christ – Saint Paul asks – if the Word is neither proclaimed nor heard?
We too, like the Apostles, need to be full of hope and enthusiasm for the future. The other shore is at hand, and Jesus is crossing the river with us. He is risen from the dead; henceforth the trials and sufferings which we experience are always opportunities opening up to a new future, provided we are willing to follow him. Christians of Central Africa, each of you is called to be, through perseverance in faith and missionary commitment, artisans of the human and spiritual renewal of your country.
May the Virgin Mary, who by sharing in the Passion of her Son, now shares in his perfect joy, protect you and encourage you on this path of hope. Amen.