VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis expressed hope Sunday he can still visit the Central African Republic this month despite what he called a worrisome flare-up of violence in that conflict-torn country.
Details of his Nov. 25-30 pilgrimage to Africa, which also includes travel in Uganda and Kenya, were unveiled by the Vatican in October. But Francis' remarks Sunday to a crowd of faithful in St. Peter's Square raised the possibility that security risks could cause the Central African Republic leg of his trip to change or even be scrapped.
Francis said he wants to show the church's closeness to that "afflicted and tormented nation" and to encourage "all Central Africans to be ever more witnesses to mercy and reconciliation."
Violence in Central Africa Republic forced its presidential and parliamentary elections to be postponed from October to December.
Francis said there were "sorrowful incidents that in these days worsened the delicate situation in the Central African Republic, sparking strong worry in my soul." He didn't assign blame, but added "I appeal to all sides involved so that an end will come to this cycle of violence."
His itinerary includes visiting a refugee camp in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic.
A Catholic Holy Year stressing mercy and reconciliation starts Dec. 8 at the Vatican and involves cathedrals and other churches worldwide. While in Bangui, Francis said he intends to open the Holy Door of the cathedral there to inspire sentiments of reconciliation.
Security concerns have weighed heavily on papal pilgrimages in the past.
In 1979, Pope John Paul canceled a stop in Northern Ireland after the IRA assassinated Lord Louis Mountbatten a month before the pontiff's scheduled arrival. The future saint also shelved a visit to Sarajevo during the Bosnia war in 1994 because security could not be guaranteed. When he did visit Sarajevo after the war, a bomb was found along a route he had planned to travel.
Frances D'Emilio is on twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio.