Pope Francis arrived in Bangui, the capital of the conflict-ravaged Central African Republic on Sunday, on the final stop of his first visit to Africa.
The trip came following security concerns, as nearly 1 million people have been forced from their homes by fighting between Christian and Muslim militants since former President Francois Bozize was ousted in a coup by mainly Muslim rebels in 2013.
Speculation was raised about whether the pope would include the country in his historic tour amid safety concerns. Domenico Gianni, the head of Vatican security, spent several days consulting with local security forces, AFP reported.
A Vatican spokesman said Saturday that the visit would go ahead as planned “if there are no particular surprises.”
“Everything has been done to ensure the safety of the pope… there is no real threat,” said Chrysostome Sambia, the Central African Republic’s public security minister, AFP reported.
However he added that there have been reports of “ill-intentioned groups in some areas,” according to the news agency.
The pontiff intends to visit locations including a refugee camp and a mosque in the PK5 area, which has been badly affected by the violence.
Arriving in Bangui from Uganda, the pope tweeted: “I come to the Central African Republic as a pilgrim of peace and as an apostle of hope.”
Thousands of people have lived at a displacement camp at Bangui’s airport for almost two years. Sandrine Sanze and her family returned to the camp for a second time after recent clashes.
“It is our prayer that with the pope’s visit that peace will return, we can go home and life can start anew,” she told the Associated Press.
Amnesty International says at least 75 people have been killed in a fresh wave of violence in Bangui since September 26. It follows nine months of relative calm in which displaced people started returning home, the United Nations said.
The United Nations refugee agency called on the warring groups to use the pope’s visit to “rebuild national reconciliation.”
Ilaria Allegrozzi, Amnesty International’s Central Africa Researcher, said: “The Pope has a real opportunity to call for the protection of civilians of all faiths and use his great moral authority to help reduce the tension that has recently resulted in deadly violence.”
Pope Francis arrived in Kenya on Wednesday as part of a six-day visit to the continent, which included a trip to Uganda.
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