Bishop Nestor-Desire Nongo Aziagbia of Bossangoa, Central African Republic, speaks with Catholic News Service in Washington Nov. 19, 2014. CNS photo/Bob Roller

African Catholic bishops see Pope’s November visit as way to ignite faith

By  Fredrick Nzwili, Religion News Service
  • July 25, 2015

NAIROBI, Kenya - Pope Francis’ announcement that he will visit East and Central Africa in November has resounded in churches here, with Catholic bishops greeting it as an opportunity to boost the faith in the region.

Francis said June 12 that he will visit the Central African Republic, then Uganda, and will possibly stop in Kenya in his first visit to the continent as pope.

The announcement has heightened expectations among Catholics in the region, who identify with his focus on poverty and his support for social justice, peace and reconciliation.

Clerics in the Central African Republic are upbeat and express hope that his presence will boost peace and reconciliation in the country. Since 2012, a deadly conflict has left thousands dead and millions displaced and living in refugee camps. Although the conflict has economic and political causes, it has shaped into a clash between the pro-Christian anti-Balaka and the Islamist Seleka.

“Given the social and political difficulties in CAR, living together has been challenge. I hope his visit will help us go back and look how we can deepen peace, reconciliation and interfaith dialogue,” said Bishop Nestor-Desire Nongo Aziagbia of Bossangoa, Central African Republic.

In Uganda, Bishop Frederick Drandua, the bishop emeritus of  the Arua Diocese, viewed the visit as a good gesture that would strengthen the faith. “The visit is very important to us (bishops). We are preparing to say thank you,” said Drandua.

“We are trying to see if he can visit the three East African nations, since we are one people,” he added.

The bishops had invited Francis for the 50th anniversary of the martyrs celebrations in early June. The event celebrates 45 Catholic and Anglican martyrs killed by Kabaka (King) Mwanga of Buganda between 1885 and 1887 after they refused to recant their faith.

Drandua said he hopes Francis will also raise the issue of widespread corruption in Uganda among government officials, stress unity among Catholics and devote time to discussing the state of the family.

“Many young people have little sense of the family. They are getting children in cohabitation, relationships that break easily,” said Drandua.

Recent attacks linked to Somalia’s al-Shabab extremist group have caught the Pope’s attention. Over Easter, he prayed for the 148 mainly Christian students killed on April 2 by militants at Garissa University College in Garissa, Kenya.

“I think his voice is needed to encourage interfaith dialogue,” said Fr. Wilybird Lagho, secretary of the Mombasa Roman Catholic Archdiocese.

Lagho said Francis is a beacon of simplicity, a model he hopes will influence greater adoption of simplicity in the government and among the region’s churches.

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