VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis will tour a Kenyan slum, meet with Muslims and evangelical Christians and visit a refugee camp in the conflict-torn Central African Republic during his first trip to Africa next month, the Vatican said Saturday.
Francis will also pay tribute to Uganda’s martyrs during the three-nation trip Nov. 25-30 that will bring him face to face for the first time with the effects of Islamic extremism and Christian-Muslim violence on the continent.
The Vatican on Saturday unveiled the itinerary of the whirlwind trip that will pose security risks that have largely been absent on Francis’ foreign trips to date.
Francis arrives first in Nairobi, where highlights include a tour of the Kangemi slum and a meeting with representatives of Kenya’s multi-faith community.
Kenya has been facing the threat of attacks from al-Shabab Islamic militants ever since it sent troops to fight Somali rebels in 2011. Al-Shabab, which is linked to al-Qaida, has conducted major attacks in Kenya, including the 2013 attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall and an April attack on a university in Garissa that killed nearly 150 people, many of them Christians and non-Muslims.
Francis is likely to condemn religiously motivated violence and call for greater interfaith harmony.
On Nov. 27, Francis travels onto Entebbe, Uganda where he will visit both the Anglican and the Catholic sanctuaries to fallen martyrs and celebrate a Mass in their honor.
The 45 Anglicans and Catholics were killed during the persecution of Christians in the region from 1885-87. Pope Paul VI canonized the 22 African Catholics in 1964.
In Bangui, Central African Republic, Francis will tour a refugee camp, meet with the evangelical community and visit Bangui’s central Koudoukou mosque for an encounter with the Muslim community.
Francis has previously prayed in mosques in Jerusalem and Istanbul. While the Vatican has previously tended to shy from engaging evangelical communities that are competing for Catholic souls in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world, Francis has shown much more openness to dialogue based in large part on personal friendships he forged with evangelical ministers as archbishop of Buenos Aires.
The Central African Republic has been rocked by violence since the mostly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition toppled the president in 2013. Widespread human rights abuses committed by Seleka led to the formation of a Christian militia known as the anti-Balaka, who have targeted Muslims and sent tens of thousands fleeing to neighboring countries.
The Seleka leader, Michel Djotodia, resigned under intense regional pressure in 2014, and a transitional government is steering the country but renewed violence has recently flared.
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NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press
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