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AFRICA

Agenda of Pope Francis' five-day visit to Africa

Pope Francis addresses attendees in the opening ceremony to commence a plenary meeting of the United Nations Sustainable Develop
Pope Francis addresses attendees in the opening ceremony to commence a plenary meeting of the United Nations Sustainable Develop Reuters/路透社

During the visits to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic, Pope Francis is expected to hold public masses, meet religious and political leaders and promote a message of reconciliation and unity. But even though the authorities insist the pontiff's trip will pass off peacefully there are also fears of jihadist attacks and violence.  

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All three countries have significant Catholic communities but they have been troubled by civil conflicts and violence.

It's his first time visiting the African continent and unlike other parts of the world, Catholicism is growing in popularity in Africa.

The continent is home to about 16 percent of the world's Catholics   double the number a few decades ago. In central African countries, half the total population are Catholics.

Whether they are in Kenya, Uganda or Central African Republic, people hope the Pope will address key issues such as the high level of poverty, and the lack of education.

"The Pope's visit is really perceived and viewed as an endorsement that implies Kenya and the region are safe enough for people to visit. And therefore, this will boost the political and economic image of Kenya and the east African region," Peter Along'o, a regional expert with the Institute for security studies, told RFI.

"Already there's a sense of hightened security, in Kenya particularly, but also in the entire region, so nothing is being taken for granted. And we hope there will be no incident of insecurity or any threats of insecurity, or any attack by Al-Shabaab, since that is what we fear most."

As in neighbouring Kenya, gay people in Uganda continue to face widespread discrimination.

Just over a year ago, the Ugandan government tried to impose lifetime jail terms for homosexual acts, but a court overturned the law.

So there are hopes he will address the issue, but nothing is set in stone yet.

"Homosexuality is a big issue. Of course we expect him to talk about it, but we don't expect him to advocate for the legalisation of homosexuality or it being allowed like it's happening in the Western part of the world but I think he's going to preach tolerance," Kenyan blogger Daniel Ominde told RFI.

"If you look at the steps Uganda has taken towards addressing the issue of homosexuality, it has been a little extreme... People had to flee the country to save their lives... I think those are the things he will talk about. His tour is going to be conciliatory, and preach treating people humanly. But being from the Catholic Church, it's very difficult for him to come out openly and say that he supports homosexuality, but he's going to appeal for a human treatment."

There have been concerns over the Pope going to the Central African Republic, since there is a civil war going on between the predominantly Muslim Séléka rebel coalition and Christian government forces.

His visit to the country, where he will meet representatives from the Muslim community at the biggest mosque in the capital, Bangui, will make him the first pope to travel to an active war zone.

"The Central African Republic is still a very much unstable country, and sections of the country are still at war. He's going to address reconciliation for the Muslim and non-Muslim fighters, who are all Central Africans. Both justice and peace are not mutually exclusive, they do not contradict each other, on the contrary, they compliment each other," Lewis Mudge, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, told RFI.

"We feel that the violence that continues in CAR is by large degree the result of endless and endless of cicles of impunity. Killers commit serious human rights abuses and war crimes because they are confident they are not going to be prosecuted. So we hope the Pope will be able to re-engage some of the international communities attention on this issue."

He explained that the Pope's visit couldn't come at a more important time in the country, with elections less than a month away.

The Pope land Wednesday in Kenya, where there alone, up to 1.4 million people are expected to attend his mass.

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