As previously reported, Pope Francis completed his first ever visit to an active war zone at the end of November, surveying the situation in Bangui, Central African Republic. He spoke to a gathered audience of thousands of young people in the Cathedral square for a prayer vigil that extended into the small hours of the night.
A young man greeted Pope Francis on behalf of all others present, asking the Holy Father: “What can we do to ensure peace?”
In response, Pope Francis set aside his prepared speech and improvised his answer to the thousands of young people of Bangui:
“Fleeing is not the answer. You need to be courageous. Courageous in forgiveness, in love, and in making peace.”
Pope Francis used the banana tree – the national symbol of CAR – as a metaphor: “It is a robust plant, and in this difficult time of war and hatred, it shows you the path of endurance.”
Continuing his response, he said: “Some of you want to leave; but running away from life’s challenges is never the answer. It is important to hang in there, to have the courage of endurance, to fight for what is good. Those who flee do not have the courage to give life.”
How can this be achieved? The Pope gave the young people a few points of advice:
“First of all, you need prayer. Prayer is powerful; prayer overcomes evil; prayer brings you closer to God the Almighty.”
The second piece of advice the Pope gave was this: work to achieve peace. He pointed out, however, that “Peace is not a document that is signed and just sits there. You work at peace every day. Peace is the work of craftsmanship; it is built with the hands and with one’s life.”
“But can someone tell me how I can be an artisan of peace?” he asked, before continuing.
“First of all: never hate others. If someone does you wrong, you must try to forgive. No hatred, lots of forgiveness. Let’s say it together: no hatred, lots of forgiveness.”
“‘Victory’ can be all yours for the keeping: if you do not feel hatred in your heart – if you show forgiveness – you will be a winner. You will win life’s toughest battle: you will be a winner of love. And peace comes of love. Do you want to be winners or losers in life? With love you will be winners in life; and you will go on giving life. With love, you will never be defeated.”
The Pope stressed this final point in particular: “Have you understood what it means to be courageous? It means courageous in forgiveness, in love, in making peace”.