Pope Francis has called on warring parties in the Central African Republic to lay down their weapons and support efforts to end sectarian strife.
The pope arrived in the CAR capital of Bangui Sunday to promote peace and co-existence in a country torn by political conflict and clashes between Christian and Muslim militants.
Addressing a mass at the Cathedral of Bangui, Pope Francis urged those using weapons to, in his words, "lay down these intstruments of death."
"Arm yourselves instead with righteousness, with love and mercy, the authentic guarantors of peace," he said.
Earlier, the pope called for unity and for people not to allow religious differences to divide them. In remarks at the presidential palace in Bangui, he said he hopes upcoming elections will allow the country to "embark serenely on a new chapter of its history."
Visit to St. Sauveur camp
Pope Francis also called for unity during a visit to the St. Sauveur camp for people displaced by the country’s nearly three-year war.
Speaking to an audience of displaced people in the camp, Pope Francis said the country needs love, peace and understanding to end the crisis.
It was a message he repeated at an evening mass. Standing before a crowd of thousands gathered outside Bangui’s cathedral, he called for forgiveness and prayer.
A warm welcome
Pope Francis’s visit was widely anticipated, and dogged by rumors that he would cancel. None of that stopped thousands of people from lining the road to the airport to greet him as he drove from the airport in the open-sided car often called the Popemobile.
Nurse Guy-Junior Siopiakoa was among them. If he could talk to the pope, he said he would tell him that everyone wants peace in the country and wants the blessing of the pope.
Alain Gokassa fled his Bangui neighborhood for the St. Sauveur camp when violence broke out this year. He’s hopeful Pope Francis’s words will make a difference.
"Many people to came to see the pope. You can see how the streets were lined with many people," said Gokassa. "It seemed like many people were waiting to see him and listen to what he had to say. He talked about love, he talk about understanding between communities. Maybe things can change," said Gokassa.
Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the PK5 neighborhood on Monday, an enclave for thousands of Bangui’s last remaining Muslims.
The neighborhood has been the site of repeated clashes between Muslim and Christian militiamen.