"I come to the Central African Republic as a pilgrim of peace and as an apostle of hope," the 78-year-old pontiff said on landing in one of Africa's poorest and most unstable countries, on a 24-hour visit fraught with concerns for his safety.
Cheers and singing erupted as his plane touched down at Bangui's international airport from Uganda on the final leg of his three-country tour of Africa, which he hailed as "the continent of hope." He began his visit Wednesday in Kenya.
For the short ride to the presidential palace in Bangui, the pontiff travelled in his open-topped popemobile, with huge crowds, many of them children and young people, cheering wildly as he passed, some waving branches in a sign of peace.
At the palace he met with acting president Catherine Samba-Panza, who begged his forgiveness for the wave of 'evil' sectarian violence that has devastated the country.
"Central Africans have inflicted unspeakable suffering on other Central Africans," she said.
In his own address, Francis called for unity, urging the people to avoid "the temptation of fear of others, of the unfamiliar, of what is not part of our ethnic group, our political views or our religious denomination."


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