By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Despite the ongoing violence in the Central Africa Republic, Pope Francis wants to visit the country Nov. 29-30, plans for the visit are in place, and the security situation is being monitored, the Vatican spokesman said.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the spokesman, told reporters Nov. 19 that nothing had happened to change those plans.
The Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, he said, obviously led to heightened security measures at the Vatican — “I would not deny that” — but they have had no bearing on the decision to visit the Central African Republic where people have been dying in civil strife for years and where Catholic, Protestant and Muslim leaders have worked and continue to work for peace.
Domenico Giani, the head of Vatican security, will leave for Africa before the pope goes Nov. 25, Father Lombardi said. He will visit the Central African Republic and make a final security assessment.
Before arriving in the Central African Republic, Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Kenya Nov. 25-27 and Uganda Nov. 27-29. It will be Pope Francis’ first ever visit to Africa, Father Lombardi said.
“The pope wants to go to the Central African Republic. The plan continues to be to go to the Central African Republic. We are all working in that direction. And, like any wise person would do, we are monitoring the situation,” Father Lombardi said. “As things stand now, we plan to go to Central Africa.”
The country has been the scene of violence and upheaval since 2013. Although religious leaders insist the conflict is political and ethnic, the fighting has divided the country on religious lines — with mostly Muslim rebel forces battling mainly Christian militias. Despite the presence of U.N. peacekeeping troops, the violence increased in September and October.
Pope Francis’ plan to visit a mosque in Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic, may take on more significance globally in the wake of the Paris attacks, Father Lombardi said, but the visit was on the papal itinerary long before the attacks. “I do not think his message will change, although how it is perceived” could change because of Paris.
It also is foreseen that Pope Francis will use an open popemobile in Central African Republic, just like he will in Kenya and Uganda, the spokesman said.
A reporter asked Father Lombardi if it was true that the Vatican had ordered both a white and a black bulletproof vest for the pope to wear in Central African Republic. “This is the first I’ve heard of it,” the spokesman responded. “It would be odd, though, to ride around in an open popemobile but wear a bulletproof vest. I hadn’t heard this and I don’t believe it.”