BANGUI: Pope Francis on Monday said Christians and Muslims were “brothers”, urging them to reject hatred and violence on a visit to a mosque in a flashpoint Muslim neighbourhood of the Central African Republic’s capital Bangui.
“Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters,” he said in an address at the central Koudoukou mosque in the PK5 district on the most dangerous part of his 24-hour visit to the war-torn nation.
“Those who claim to believe in God must also be men and women of peace,” he said in the district of flimsy shacks and red dirt roads which has been at the heart of recent sectarian violence pitting Muslim rebels against Christian vigilante groups.
“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,” he said on a visit which has seen him hammering home a message of peace and reconciliation.
Addressing residents crowded into the mosque, Francis said his visit to the Central African Republic “would not be complete if it did not include this encounter with the Muslim community.”
Wrapping up his three-country African tour, Francis will then celebrate a huge mass at the capital’s 20,000-seat Barthelemy Boganda Stadium before heading back to the Vatican.
The pontiff has hammered home the message of peace during his visit to the Central African Republic, which has been wracked by tit-for-tat violence between Muslim rebels and Christian vigilante groups.
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“We are all brothers,” the pope said on Sunday as he visited a camp housing some 3,000 internally displaced people in the heart of Bangui.
Francis also called for unity, urging 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”.
His message and the fact that he actually visited the country, despite significant security concerns struck a chord with locals and drew pledges of peace and forgiveness.