Bangui, Central African Republic, Nov 29, 2015 / 09:05 am
The path to Christian unity includes shared suffering, Pope Francis told the Central African Republic's evangelical Christian communities on Sunday, exhorting them to continue showing charity amid war and violence.
"God makes no distinctions between those who suffer. I have often called this the ecumenism of blood. All our communities suffer indiscriminately as a result of injustice and the blind hatred unleashed by the devil," he said Nov. 29.
He especially expressed his closeness to a pastor whose home, which served as a meeting place for his community church, was ransacked and set on fire.
"In these difficult circumstances, the Lord keeps asking us to demonstrate to everyone his tenderness, compassion and mercy," he said.
The Pope's comments came at a gathering at the Evangelical Faculty of Theology in the Central African Republic's capital, Bangui. He is in the country Nov. 29-30 at the close of his visit to Africa, having previously visited Kenya and Uganda.
Pope Francis told the Evangelical communities that such suffering and shared mission are a "providential opportunity for us to advance together on the path of unity."
"How could the Father refuse the grace of unity, albeit still imperfect, to his children who suffer together and, in different situations, join in serving their brothers and sisters?" he asked.
The Central African Republic suffered tensions that erupted into war in late 2012. Predominantly Muslim rebel groups in the country's north formed an alliance and called themselves Seleka. They traveled to the capital and seized power from its then-president.
In reaction, some Central Africans formed self-defense groups called the anti-balaka. Some of these groups, mainly composed of Christians, began attacking Muslims out of revenge, and the conflict took on a sectarian character.
At least 6,000 people have been killed in the fighting, with many more displaced. The country is now governed by an interim president. It will hold presidential and parliamentary elections Dec. 27. The elections had been postponed in October due to violence and instability.
The Pope reflected on how the violence has caused great suffering for Central Africans.
"This makes the proclamation of the Gospel all the more necessary and urgent," he said. "For it is Christ's own flesh which suffers in his dearest sons and daughters: the poorest of his people, the infirm, the elderly, the abandoned, children without parents or left to themselves without guidance and education. There are also those who have been scarred in soul or body by hatred and violence, those whom war has deprived of everything: work, home and loved ones."
Pope Francis characterized the lack of Christian unity as a scandal that is contrary to God's will.
"It is also a scandal when we consider the hatred and violence which are tearing humanity apart, and the many forms of opposition which the Gospel of Christ encounters."
He encouraged the Evangelicals to continue common service in charity, as "a witness to Christ which builds up unity." He also encouraged them to commit to prayer and common reflection so as to help achieve greater mutual understanding, trust, and friendship.
"All of us are here in the service of the risen Lord who assembles us today; and, by virtue of the common baptism we have received, we are sent to proclaim the joy of the Gospel to men and women of this beloved country of Central Africa."