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Pope Francis Takes His Message to Africa

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Little more than a week after his condemnation of the Paris terrorist attacks, in which he said that justifying violence in God’s name is “blasphemy,” Pope Francis was due to embark on his first African tour. The visit is meant to promote interfaith harmony and denounce religiously motivated violence in a region embroiled in conflict. The six-day trip, which starts Nov. 25, is the Pope’s 11th pastoral visit since his March 2013 inauguration but likely the riskiest so far: international intelligence agencies have already warned of potential assassination attempts, and Vatican officials say they may have to cancel the final leg at the last minute, because of security concerns. Here’s the agenda:


The tour begins in a country where the Somalia-based militant group al-Shabab has killed hundreds over the past three years in a series of gruesome attacks on university students, mallgoers and others. In Nairobi, Francis will tour one of the country’s biggest slums to draw the world’s attention to the plight of Africa’s urban poor–a rapidly rising demographic. He’s also expected to make a big speech on the environment in the Kenyan capital, days before world leaders gather for a U.N. climate summit in Paris.


Francis is to celebrate a Mass in the township of Namugongo in honor of 45 Catholic and Anglican martyrs killed during anti-Christian pogroms from 1885 to 1887. He will also engage with evangelical church leaders who are competing with the Catholic Church for African believers. While it is not on his official agenda, the issue of gay rights is likely to come up: Uganda, like many other conservative Christian nations in Africa, has recently imposed draconian antihomosexual legislation even as the Pontiff has reached out to the gay community.


The Pope will visit a camp for refugees fleeing a violent conflict that has pitted Christian militias against Muslim rebels; he also plans to meet with Muslim leaders and pray in the capital’s central mosque. The U.N. said Nov. 17 that it plans to deploy an additional 300 peacekeepers to boost security, but with more than 61 killed in recent weeks in worsening violence, the Pope’s security team may yet decide that the country isn’t safe enough for his message of peace and harmony between faiths.

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