VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis sent two video messages Monday ahead of his tri-nation visit to Africa, speaking his intent to bring “consolation and hope” to the region, while serving as a “minister of the Gospel.”
In the message sent to the people of the Central African Republic, Pope Francis, speaking in French, referenced the “joy which pervades me” on the occasion of the visit, while acknowledging the ongoing violence that has brought suffering to the war-torn nation.
“Your dear country has for too long been affected by a violent situation and by insecurity, of which many of you have been innocent victims,” the Pope said, according to Vatican Radio’s translation.
CAR is currently in the midst of an ongoing conflict. The majority of tensions began in late 2012, when several bands of mainly Muslim rebel groups formed an alliance, taking the name Seleka. They left their strongholds in the north of the country and made their way south, seizing power from then-President Francois Bozize.
Since then, fear, uncertainty and violence have swept over the country in a conflict that has so far left some 6,000 people dead.
The scheduled Nov. 29-30 trip to CAR would mark Pope Francis' first time in an active war zone, with new deaths reported daily.
“The goal of my visit is, above all, to bring you, in the name of Christ, the comfort of consolation and hope,” the pontiff said in the message.
“I hope with all my heart that my visit may contribute, in one way or another, to alleviate your wounds and to favor conditions for a better, more serene future for Central Africa and all its inhabitants.”
Pope Francis is set to begin his tri-nation African tour Nov. 25-30, with scheduled visits to Kenya, Uganda and finally CAR. The journey marks his first trip to the continent since his election to the papacy.
“Let Us Pass to the Other Side” is the theme of the visit, the Pope observed in the CAR video message. This theme, he continued, invites Christian communities “to look ahead with determination,” while encouraging “each person to renew their own relationship with God and with their brothers and sisters to build a new, more just and fraternal world.”
Earlier this month, Pope Francis said that he would open the diocese of Bangui’s holy door while in Central African Republic ahead of the Year of Mercy, which officially starts Dec. 8, as a sign of prayer and solidarity for the conflict-ridden nation.
The last pontiff to visit CAR was St. John Paul II in 1985, as part of a larger trip to Togo, the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Zaire and Kenya.
Pope Francis also issued a joint video message to the people of Kenya and Uganda, in which expressed his hope that the visit will “confirm” the Catholic communities of the region as they testify to the Gospel.
“I am coming as a minister of the Gospel, to proclaim the love of Jesus Christ and his message of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace,” the Pope said.
Speaking in English, he said the aim of his visit will be “to confirm the Catholic community in its worship of God and witness of the Gospel, which teaches the dignity of every man and woman, and commands us to open our hearts to others, especially the poor and those in need.”
Expressing his desire to encounter and offer a “word of encouragement” to the Kenyan and Ugandan people, the Pope noted the need for people of faith and goodwill to support one another as children of God.
“We are living at a time when religious believers, and persons of goodwill everywhere, are called to foster mutual understanding and respect and to support each other as members of our one human family,” he said, “for all of us are God’s children.”
Pope Francis cited his planned visit with young people as one of the highlights of his visit to the region.
Young people, he said, “are your greatest resource and our most promising hope for a future of solidarity, peace and progress.”
The Pope concluded by acknowledging the hard work involved in the preparations for his visit and offered his thanks. He asked everyone to pray that his visit to Kenya and Uganda would “be a source of hope and encouragement to all.”
“Upon you and your families, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!”