VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis said June 12 that he is planning to travel to Africa in November, specifically to the Central African Republic, Uganda and possibly Kenya.
During a meeting with hundreds of priests from around the world participating in the Third World Priests Retreat in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Pope responded to the question from an African priest asking when he planned to come to Africa.
“God willing, I will be in Africa in November. In the Central African Republic first, and then Uganda,” he responded.
The Holy Father added that it “is possible” that he may also go to Kenya, but said this is not certain, because of organizational challenges.
He also noted that the trip will come “before the presidential transition in the Central African Republic; and Uganda, after the 50th anniversary of the martyrs, though a little late.”
The Pope had already announced his intention to travel to Africa — specifically the Central African Republic and Uganda — during a press conference while returning from a trip to Sri Lanka and the Philippines in January.
In September 2014, the bishops of Uganda invited the Holy Father to their country to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the canonization of the martyrs of Uganda.
The 22 Ugandan martyrs were killed by the king in the 1880s for refusing to recant their faith. They were canonized on Oct. 18, 1964, by Pope Paul VI in St. Peter’s Basilica. The Church of Uganda has already begun preparations for the celebration of the golden anniversary of the canonization with a diocesan conference on the saints.
The Central African Republic has been gripped by violence since December 2012.
The country’s conflict began when Seleka rebels, loosely organized groups that drew primarily Muslim fighters from other countries, ousted the president and installed their own leader in a March 2013 coup.
In September 2013, after 10 months of terrorism at the hands of the Seleka, anti-balaka (militia) self-defense groups began to form. The conflict in the nation took on a sectarian character, as some anti-balaka, many of whom are Christian, began attacking Muslims out of revenge for the Seleka’s acts.
The conflict has died down since the presence of international peacekeepers was enlarged in late 2014, but the nation remains unstable.
On May 15, Pope Francis met with bishops from the Central African Republic. He told them that they “must play an indispensable prophetic role during the current institutional transition, recalling and reflecting the witness of the fundamental values of justice, truth and honesty, which are the foundation of any renewal, promoting dialogue and peaceful coexistence between members of different societies and ethnicities, thus encouraging reconciliation and social cohesion, which is the key to the future.”
The Pope also stressed to the bishops that “Christian formation and a deepening of the faith” must be priorities, so that “the Gospel permeates the life of the baptized, for the good not only of the Christian communities, but also the whole of Central-African society.”
Instructing them “to form the conscience of the faithful, and indeed that of all the people, as your voice is heard and respected by all,” the Holy Father explained that “(i)t is in this way that you should take your rightful place in current developments, avoiding direct involvement in political quarrels.”