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Pope welcomed to Central African Republic “resist the fear of the other” [Monitoring]

Pope Francis opens the holy door of the Bangui cathedral, Central African Republic, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015. Pope Francis is in Africa for a six-day visit that is taking him to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

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BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — The latest on Pope Francis’ first trip to Africa. (All times local.)

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6:15 p.m.

Pope Francis has issued an appeal from the altar of Bangui’s cathedral for all the fighting factions in Central African Republic and elsewhere to lay down their weapons and instead “arm yourselves with justice, love, mercy and authentic peace.”

Bangui is awash in weapons as a result of more than two years of sectarian violence between Christian and Muslim militants that has forced more than 1 million people to flee their homes.

In his first Mass on Sunday after his arrival, Francis said Christians had as their primary vocation love for their enemy “which protects against the temptation of revenge and against the spiral of unending retaliation.”

— Nicole Winfield, Bangui

Pope Francis opens the holy door of the Bangui cathedral, Central African Republic, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015. Pope Francis is in Africa for a six-day visit that is taking him to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Pope Francis opens the holy door of the Bangui cathedral, Central African Republic, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015. Pope Francis is in Africa for a six-day visit that is taking him to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

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6 p.m.

Pope Francis has declared Bangui the “spiritual capital of the world” as he opened his Jubilee Year of Mercy early and in Africa to give the conflict-wracked Central African Republic a special spiritual boost.

Francis’s big holy year was supposed to have started in St. Peter’s Basilica on Dec. 8, and some 33 million pilgrims are expected in Rome over the course of the year to participate. But Francis announced a few weeks ago that he would officially open the Holy Door of Bangui’s cathedral during his visit to kick off the yearlong celebration here.

Francis ceremoniously pushed open the cathedral doors at the start of Mass on Sunday. He said: “The Holy Year of Mercy is coming early to this land, a land that has suffered too long from war, hatred, incomprehension, a lack of peace.”

Holy Years are usually declared every 25 to 50 years or so and are times for the faithful to receive indulgences. They always begin with the ceremonial opening of the Holy Door on St. Peter’s and the other major basilicas in Rome and usually involve the faithful embarking on pilgrimages. The last holy year was St. John Paul II’s 2000 Jubilee to usher in the Catholic Church’s third millennium.

— Nicole Winfield, Bangui

Pope Francis  arrives at Notre Dame cathedral in Bangui, Central African Republic on the third leg of his Africa trip Sunday Nov. 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Pope Francis arrives at Notre Dame cathedral in Bangui, Central African Republic on the third leg of his Africa trip Sunday Nov. 29, 2015.

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2 p.m.

The interim president of Central African Republic has thanked Pope Francis for his “lesson in courage” in coming to the conflict-ridden country, saying his presence showed the “victory of faith over fear.”

In a welcoming address at the presidential palace Sunday, President Catherine Samba-Panza said Francis’ message of peace and reconciliation was necessary. She said that all Central Africans need forgiveness and pardon, starting with herself.

She said: “In the name of the entire governing class of this country and also in the name of all those who have contributed in some way to its descent into hell, I confess all the evil that has been done here over history and ask forgiveness from the bottom of my heart.”

She said she hoped Francis’ visit would result in the “demons of division, hatred and self-destruction being exorcised and chased forever from our land and that our country can find again the path of a new spirituality anchored in tolerance, love of one another and respect for human dignity and established authority.”

— Nicole Winfield, Bangui

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12:35 p.m.

Pope Francis says he has come to Central African Republic as a “pilgrim of peace, an apostle of hope” and is encouraging the country to disarm and reconcile.

In comments upon his arrival Sunday, Francis told Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza and the diplomatic corps that he hoped upcoming elections will enable the conflict-torn country to “serenely begin a new phase of its history.”

Speaking for the first time in public in French, he encouraged the country to follow a path of solidarity “for reconciliation, disarmament, consolidation of peace, health care and in the culture of a healthy administration at all levels.”

He called for the country’s people to recognize their “unity in diversity” — and not allow religious differences to divide them.

“It’s about living and building from the marvelous diversity of the world around us, avoiding the temptation of fearing the other, of what is unfamiliar, of those who don’t belong to our ethnic group, our political choices or political confession.”

— Nicole Winfield, Bangui

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People wait outside the airport for the arrival of Pope Francis in Bangui, Central African Republic, Sunday Nov. 29, 2015. The Pope is in Africa for a six-day visit that is taking him to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
People wait outside the airport for the arrival of Pope Francis in Bangui, Central African Republic, Sunday Nov. 29, 2015. The Pope is in Africa for a six-day visit that is taking him to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic.

11:45 a.m.

Schoolgirls in yellow and white dresses — the colors of the Holy See flag — and authorities from Central African Republic have welcomed Pope Francis at a heavily secured Bangui airport for the final leg of his three-nation African trip.

Francis’ Alitalia charter landed just beyond the settlement for displaced residents that has cropped up on the airport’s edge, housing some of the people who have been uprooted during two years of sectarian violence in the country.

As Francis emerged, a huge cheer broke out from the small crowd. Troops stood guard in the grasslands off the tarmac, and Francis’ bodyguards stood close. A mix of Vatican, U.N. and other security forces were on hand.

Thousands of people lined his motorcade route, cheering even as the press busses passed by, escorted by U.N. troops.

— Nicole Winfield, Bangui

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The airplane carrying Pope Francis lands in Bangui, Central African Republic, Sunday Nov. 29, 2015.  Pope Francis has landed in the capital of Central African Republic, his final stop in Africa and where he will seek to heal a country wracked by conflict between Muslims and Christians. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
The airplane carrying Pope Francis lands in Bangui, Central African Republic, Sunday Nov. 29, 2015. Pope Francis has landed in the capital of Central African Republic, his final stop in Africa and where he will seek to heal a country wracked by conflict between Muslims and Christians.

10:15 a.m.

Pope Francis has landed in the capital of Central African Republic, his final stop in Africa and where he will seek to heal a country wracked by conflict between Muslims and Christians.

The pope plans to visit a displacement camp later Sunday in Bangui where Christians have sought protection amid the ongoing violence.

On Monday he is due to visit a mosque in the capital’s Muslim enclave that has become a shelter for throngs of Muslims driven from their homes.

There were concerns that Francis would cancel his trip to Bangui given the latest wave of violence that has left at least 100 people dead since late September.

Only 15,000 Muslims remain in the capital after ongoing attacks forced more than 100,000 to flee in fear of their lives.

— Krista Larson, Bangui

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10 a.m.

Pope Francis has left Uganda and is on his way to Central African Republic, the third and last leg of his pilgrimage to Africa.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and local Catholic leaders bid him farewell at the international airport in the lakeside town of Entebbe.

In Uganda, Francis honored the memory of a group of Christians, known as the Uganda Martyrs, who were killed in the late 19th century when they refused to renounce their faith. He urged the faithful to emulate the example of the 45 Anglican and Catholic martyrs.

He is now embarking on the most challenging part of the trip — Central African Republic is a country where violence between Christian and Muslim militants has forced nearly 1 million from their homes over the last two years and created a divided capital.

While sectarian clashes have left at least 100 people dead over the last two months, recent days have been relatively free of gunfire, and President Catherine Samba-Panza says the pope is being awaited as a “peace messenger.”

— Rodney Muhumuza, Kampala

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