ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE: Pope Francis said Monday that fundamentalism is “a disease of all religions”, including the Roman Catholic Church, as he returned from a three-nation tour of Africa in which he preached reconciliation and hope.
“Fundamentalism is always a tragedy. It is not religious, it lacks God, it is idolatrous,” the Argentine pontiff told journalists on the plane back from the Central African Republic.
There, on the final leg of his first trip to Africa, the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics called on Christian and Muslim “brothers and sisters” to end the sectarian conflict that has torn the country apart.
He was given a rapturous welcome by thousands of people as he visited a mosque in the flashpoint Muslim PK5 neighborhood of the capital Bangui, on what was the most dangerous part of his 24-hour visit to the country.
“Together, we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself,” he said.
Speaking later in the day as he flew back to Rome, Francis said Islam was not the only religion to suffer from violent extremists, such as the ones behind the deadly attacks in Paris that were claimed by the Islamic State.
“We Catholics, we have a few, even many fundamentalists. They believe they know absolute truth and corrupt others,” he said, adding: “I can say this because this is my Church.”
Francis also visited Kenya on his trip, where he denounced the radicalization of young people, citing “barbarous attacks” by Islamic extremists in Nairobi, Garissa and Mandera.
The country has been hit by numerous deadly attacks since sending its army into neighboring Somalia in 2011 after a string of kidnappings it blamed on Al-Qaeda’s east Africa branch, the Shebab.
In Uganda, huge crowds celebrated as he honored Christians martyred for the faith and hailed Africa as “the continent of hope.”
But it was in Central African Republic, torn apart by brutal violence between mostly Muslim rebels and Christian militias for more than two years, that his visit appeared to have made the most powerful impression.
In extraordinary scenes before he held a papal mass at the capital’s Barthelemy Boganda stadium, a group of Muslim rebels from the PK5 area leapt out of two pickup trucks, all wearing T-shirts bearing the pope’s image.