Pope Francis’ scheduled trip this month to the Central African Republic could be canceled if violent clashes between Christians and Muslims in the conflict-torn nation persist, a senior Vatican source told Reuters Sunday. The pontiff is expected to visit a mosque in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the capital, Bangui, where at least 11 people were killed last week.
"If the situation worsens, he will not be able to go, and he is aware of that," the source told Reuters.
Speaking to tens of thousands of people Sunday at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, Rome, Pope Francis called for an end to the “cycle of violence” in the Central African Republic and hinted that his planned Nov. 28-29 visit -- a “trip I hope to be able to make to the nation,” he said -- may be in jeopardy.
Three Muslims were attacked early Thursday when leaving Bangui’s only Muslim enclave, called PK5, to enter the Christian sixth district. Two of them were slain and their bodies chopped up into pieces, while the third escaped but was later stoned to death by a crowd near a church. In an apparent act of retaliation, a Christian man was killed Friday morning as he entered PK5, witnesses and residents told Reuters. The killings brought last week’s death toll to 11, including three senior negotiators for the Séléka alliance visiting the capital for peace talks aimed at ending a two-year civil war.
The mostly Muslim Séléka rebel group seized power in the Christian-majority nation during a coup in 2013. Christian militias known as anti-balaka took up arms in response and have increasingly fought back. Those militias have carried out ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population during the continuing conflict, and thousands of people have been killed, the United Nations said in a report this year, according to Al Jazeera.
Pope Francis’ planned visit to the Central African Republic in November is part of trip to the continent that would also take him to Kenya and Uganda. Apart from threatening the Argentine pontiff’s trip, the escalating religious violence also could also derail the country’s plans to hold long-delayed elections in December.