Pope sends top Vatican official to Ivory Coast
By Alan Holdren
Cardinal Peter Turkson. Credit: Mazur
Cardinal Peter Turkson. Credit: Mazur

.- Internal conflicts in the Ivory Coast that threaten tear the country apart are a cause of such great concern for Pope Benedict XVI that he sent a top African official from the Vatican to plead for peace.

After four days of continuous battle in several of Ivory Coast’s cities, Pope Benedict pleaded for an end to the violence that has confined people to their homes or forced hundreds of thousands to flee to nearby countries.

Ivory Coast is "traumatised by painful internal conflicts and grave social and political tensions," said the Pope in his French-language greeting after the March 30 general audience at the Vatican.

Military forces supporting president-elect Alassane Ouattara are fighting to remove former president Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to cede the office since he lost in still disputed elections last November.

Fighting is taking place in cities across the nation as Ouattara's supporters attempt to push the ex-president out of office.

The Pope decried the violence and expressed his closeness to all those who have lost loved ones or are suffering because of the conflict.

The Associated Press estimates that 462 people have been killed and over one million displaced.

"I make an urgent appeal for a process of constructive dialogue for the common good to begin as quickly as possible," said the Pope.

"The dramatic clashes necessitate the urgent restoration of respect and peaceful co-existence. Every effort must be made to this end."

Bishop Gaspard Béby Gnéba of Man, Ivory Coast told Fides news agency on March 29 that the humanitarian situation was deteriorating as the fighting continued.

“The conditions for people, which were already dramatic, have worsened," he lamented.

There is little information on civilian conditions because of the continuous fighting. However, the bishop has learned from contacts within the Church that many fleeing Ivorians have gone to Liberia, where the Church is organizing medical and food assistance and shelter.

Liberian priest, Fr. Joseph, told Fides that they are welcoming Ivorians with open arms, but scrambling to provide for them.

Not long ago, he said, he himself fled to the Ivory Coast due to the Liberian civil war.

"We lived as refugees for four years in that country. Now it's our turn to welcome our Ivorian brothers and sisters," he said. "But we need the help of the universal Church."

The conflict is a cause of such great concern to the Pope that he has sent one of his top curial officials to the nation, Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Cardinal Turkson’s mission is to plead for peace on the Pope’s behalf.

As Pope Benedict explained at the general audience, Cardinal Turkson is also going to convey the solidarity of the Pope and the universal Church with the victims of the fighting.

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