Religious correspondents have been looking ahead this week to Pope Francis’s first trip to Africa, in particular his third stop in Bangui, in the Central African Republic, where violent clashes have been taking place between Christian and Muslim militias. Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said the Pope’s head of security would visit the Central African Republic early to plan for the trip. He said the Pontiff would travel in an open-topped popemobile as normal.
What the media are saying
The mainstream media have focused on the riskiness of the Pope’s trip, with the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency describing it as the “riskiest” of his papacy. It described how Francis would “defy danger” in a region “riddled with jihadist violence” with “an open-topped popemobile and visits to a slum, refugee camp and mosque despite security fears”. The news outlet did mention the Year of Mercy, too, quoting Giulio Albanese, an African expert with Vatican Radio, who said: “If he opens the Holy Door in Bangui, a jubilee year will begin for the first time ever in the periphery. It would be the best summary of the Pope’s doctrinal attitude.” In another report AFP focused on a request from some gay Africans for the Pope to preach tolerance.
What the vaticanisti are saying
For commentator John Allen, Pope Francis’s visit was one to “support the three saints of Bangui”. The “saints” are Evangelical, Muslim and Catholic leaders Rev Nicolas Guerekoyame-Gbangou, Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, and Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga of Bangui, president of the bishops’ conference. Allen explained: “They represent the main religious options in a country where 50 per cent of the population is Protestant, 30 per cent Catholic, and 15 per cent Muslim … Together, they’ve travelled the country visiting areas plagued by violence, holding community meetings to rebuild trust.” He concluded: “For Pope Francis, shining a spotlight on this remarkable inter-faith friendship is worth running a few risks himself.”
The most overlooked story of the week ✣ Italian priest attacked by gunmen in Bangladesh
FR PIERO PAROLARI, an Italian missionary priest working in Bangladesh, was attacked by gunmen on motorbikes while he was cycling to work in Dinajpur. ISIS later claimed responsibility for the attack. Fr Parolari survived but is recovering from gunshot wounds, slashes and heavy bruising.
Why was it under-reported?
THE MEDIA has been largely focused on the attack in Paris and the high terror alert in Brussels. Yet the situation in Bangladesh, once regarded as a moderate majority- Muslim country, is worsening. Fr Parolari was the second Italian to be targeted in the past few weeks – aid worker Cesare Tavella was killed in a similar attack in September. Four atheist bloggers have been also been killed by extremists. Priests are now required to have militant escorts to carry out their day-to-day missionary work.
What will happen next?
BANGLADESHI authorities will be scrambling to find the shooters and uncover anyone recruiting for ISIS in the country. But the problem is not just a Bangladeshi one. Earlier this year Sheikh Hasina Wazed, the country’s prime minister, warned David Cameron that he needed to be doing more to combat extremism after it was revealed that Jamaat, Bangladesh’s strongest Islamist party, had strong links in East London. “They are collecting money, they are sending money [to Bangladesh],” she said.
✣ The week ahead
THE POPE is due to arrive in Uganda today. Tomorrow he will celebrate Mass for the martyrs of Uganda at a shrine at Namugongo, where many of them were burned to death. The most dangerous part of his trip will take place on Sunday when he arrives in the turbulent Central African Republic. On his list of stops is a camp for displaced people.
FR TIMOTHY RADCLIFFE (below) will open a conference tomorrow at Saïd Business School, Oxford, on “truth telling and the media”. He will be joined by Professor Nicholas Boyle and Edward Hadas, economics editor at Reuters Breakingviews.
PARIS’S week-long climate change summit begins on Monday. The governments of more than 190 nations will gather to discuss a possible agreement to reduce global carbon emissions. Pope Francis has urged the United Nations to take a “very strong stand”. He said in July: “I have great hopes that a fundamental agreement will be reached.”