Pope Francis’ visit was described by President Catherine Samba-Panza as a blessing from heaven and a victory of faith. It took little more than 26 hours to transform the Pope’s visit to Africa into one of the most meaningful journeys of his papacy. Bergoglio was indeed able to show the world, by his mere presence (which many thought impossible), the need for reconciliation in a country struggling, with help from the international community, to heal the wounds inflicted by civil war and to escape crushing poverty.
The people of Central Africa understood and thus the Pontiff’s passage along the dusty roads of Bangui was celebrated by crowds, swaying tree branches and colourful fabrics stretching along the streets. He was joyfully embraced by the city’s Archbishop, Dieudonné Nzapalainga, along with refugees gathered at the Saint-Sauveur [Holy Savour] parish; he was welcomed in friendship by the Protestants of the theological faculty, and then by Muslims at the Mosque of Koudoukou. Pope Bergoglio recognized that these are difficult times, as he celebrated the closing Mass in a stadium brimming with people and assaulted by the sun. But faith in Jesus is a reality open to a definitive future that “even now is transforming our lives and the world around us”. Just like the gesture by the Pope who, to everyone’s surprise, came down from the altar to exchange the sign of peace with the Imam of Bangui, who was present at the Mass in the Cathedral. “Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters”, he emphasized in the Mosque: brothers and sisters who must “remain united in working for an end to every act which, from whatever side, disfigures the Face of God”, by rejecting violence and hatred.
Pope Francis’ journey to Africa came to a close with this leg of the itinerary which he so tenaciously wanted and which culminated in the unprecedented act of a pontiff opening a Holy Door outside of Rome. Indeed, with this symbol par excellence of the Jubilee, in the Cathedral of Bangui, for the Central African Republic, he expedited the opening of the Extraordinary Year of Mercy inducted for the 50th anniversary of the end of the Council.
And with this foretaste of the Jubilee celebration, this city in the heart of Africa which yearns for peace has become by the Pope’s intention “the spiritual capital of the world”. In a country where many are “listless, asking only for alms, the alms of bread, the alms of justice, the alms of attention and goodness”, Francis added, “all of us are looking for God’s grace, for the alms of peace”.
After concluding the Mass for the First Sunday of Advent, the Pontiff introduced a Prayer Vigil which afterwards continued throughout the night, improvising with thousands of young people a dialogue on the need to reject evil and fight for good. Before withdrawing to hear the confessions of several teenaged boys and girls, the Pope made his customary request that they pray for him, that he may be a good bishop and a good Pope.
St. Peter’s Square
Jan. 22, 2018
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