Pope Francis yesterday said Christians and Muslims were “brothers” and urged them to reject hatred and violence as he visited a mosque in Bangui in the Central African Republic.
Thousands of people gathered at the roadside, cheering as his popemobile drove down the red dirt roads. As his vehicle passed, many waving Vatican flags and dressed in long traditional robes, ran down the road after it.
“Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters,” he said after meeting Muslim leaders at the Koudoukou mosque in the PK5 district.
He said: “Together we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God.”
The pope later flew out of Bangui to head back to Rome, ending his first trip to Africa that also incorporated Kenya and Uganda.
Francis’ message of peace and reconciliation appeared to have made a powerful impression, with a group of Muslim rebels turning up to join tens of thousands watching a papal Mass at the Barthelemy Boganda Stadium.
In extraordinary scenes just before the pope’s arrival, two pickup trucks pulled up in the middle of the crowd and a group of Muslims from PK5 leapt out, all wearing T-shirts bearing the pope’s image.
As they pushed through the crowd in an area where Muslims usually do not dare to venture, people cheered and applauded, shouting: “It’s over” in reference to the intercommunal hatred that has blighted the country since a 2013 coup.
“We thought the whole world had abandoned us, but not him. He loves us Muslims too. I’m very happy,” said Idi Bohari, an elderly man.