Pope Francis continues his three-nation trip to Africa. During his first stop in Nairobi, Kenya the Argentine pontiff addressed the problem of Islamic extremism in Africa and called Christians and Muslims to engage in a dialogue of peace in the face of religious radicalization and “barbarous” attacks. On November 27 he is expected in Uganda and later will address the question of religiously inspired violence on Sunday in Central African Republic. Robert Dowd, professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, who specializes in religion and democracy in Africa, told Metro what to expect from the pontiff’s tour.
Q: What are the main objectives of this visit?
– I think the Pope wants to affirm the important work of the Catholic Church in all three countries, particularly work in service of the poor and in efforts to promote justice and peace. He means to remind Catholic leaders in all three countries of the importance of remaining close to those who are on the margins of their societies. In a sense, his objective is to reiterate the message of his latest encyclical, Laudato Si', which links care for the poor and care for the environment. He also clearly wants to promote mutual respect between Christians and Muslims, particularly in the Central African Republic where has been deadly violence between them. As courageous as this Pope is in tackling tough issues, he is also humble. I think he is also dedicated to learning as much as he can about the challenges and opportunities that Church faces in Africa.
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Q: Why is it significant?
– It is his first visit to Africa as Pope and his presence will focus the attention of many people throughout the world on the three countries that he will visit. I also think it is significant because this visit sends a signal that issues happening in Africa really matter. Peace and authentic human development there will not only be good for Africa, but for the rest of the world.
Q: Will this tour be important for Catholics only?
– The Pope's visit is important for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. His message of concern for the poor and for the environment is a message intended for all people. Further, I think that many people in Africa, regardless of their religious affiliation, are inspired by the humility of Pope Francis. In societies where many political leaders and even some religious leaders flaunt their wealth and enjoy perks and privileges, Pope Francis offers a different model of leadership.
Q: What impact could Pope’s visit possibly have?
– My hope is that the Pope's visit will also inspire greater religious tolerance and mutual respect between Christians and Muslims. He is making a point to meet with both leaders. He wants to make it clear that they should be cooperating to promote peace and justice in their societies.