Report: Francis inspired peace pact between Christian, Muslim armies in Africa

This story appears in the Francis in Africa 2015 feature series. View the full series.

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Two violent armed factions in the Central Africa Republic -- one largely Muslim and the other largely Christian -- signed a secret non-aggression pact in advance of Pope Francis' Nov. 29-30 trip to the country to ensure his safety, according to a new report.

Revelation of the pact, made Thursday by Italian news-site Vatican Insider, shows anew what impact the pontiff can have on international affairs.

The Central African Republic has been torn by violence since 2013, when the largely Muslim faction known as Seleka seized the capital of Bangui and effectively deposed the government. They were then opposed by a largely Christian militia known as the anti-Balaka.

Although the two groups signed a ceasefire in 2014, deadly skirmishes had continued -- placing doubt on the pope's visit even up to the day before he landed in Bangui.

Security measures taken at that landing were among the highest ever seen on a papal trip, with armored tanks with mounted heavy guns, bulletproof-vested guards, and even ride-along escorts of rifled soldiers in the Vatican press buses.

According to Thursday's report, the two armed factions signed the non-aggression pact Nov. 13 -- the same day as the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris -- in order to stop violence in advance of Francis' visit.

The pact was reportedly given Nov. 30 symbolically to Cardinal Angelo Becciu, under-secretary of the Vatican's Secretariat of State, who was travelling with the pope. Becciu is said to have been given a copy of the pact during Francis' open-air Mass in Bangui, which attracted tens of thousands despite the extraordinary security measures.

The pontiff also visited Kenya and Uganda on a Nov. 25-30 trip to Africa.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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