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Jun 15 (GIN) – Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church, will visit Uganda and the Central African Republic this year, where religious wars, before and now, have wrecked destruction and devastation on the local populations. 

The prelate confirmed his itinerary at a retreat of Third World Priests in the Basilica of St John Lateran.

"God willing, I will be in Africa in November. In the Central African Republic first and then Uganda," the pope said, when asked when he planned to visit the continent. A stopover in Kenya is still under consideration.

The trip, he said, will be "before the presidential transition in the Central African Republic, and to Uganda after the 50th anniversary of the martyrs, though a little late."

Ugandan Catholics had sought the Pope’s attendance at the anniversary event this month which recalled the execution of 45 Ugandan Catholics and Anglicans in the years 1885 to 1887. Their execution was ordered by Mwanga II, the Kabaka (King) of Buganda during a contentious struggle for power among Catholics, Muslims and Anglicans.

The brutal executions – beheadings and burnings - were used to justify the British East Africa Company’s takeover designs on the region. Buganda became a British protectorate. Years later, the 22 known Catholic martyrs were declared "Blessed" by Pope Benedict XV in 1920 and canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1964.

Pope Francis’s visit to the Central African Republic was likely prompted by the brutal sectarian war between Muslims and Christians which began in 2012  and left more than half of the country in need of humanitarian aid, half a million displaced and an equal number in refugee camps in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other neighboring countries.

At a meeting last month with bishops from the region, he urged them “to promote dialogue and peaceful coexistence and encourage reconciliation and social cohesion, which is the key to the future.”

Catherine Samba Panza, the CAR’s current transitional head of state, is expected to hand over power in after elections scheduled for December.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis, outspoken on environmental and income inequality, has already raised these concerns as affecting Africa. The rest of the world, he said, must stop going to Africa to “strip and steal” resources, but to invest in the continent. This would end the need of people to emigrate.

The Pope called on followers to pay special attention to environmental degradation and global warming.  A document he prepared on the issue: “Laudato Si’, On the Care of Our Common Home” will be released at the Vatican later this week. The encyclical is aimed at everyone, he said, not just Catholics. He will be joined by three speakers – a Vatican cardinal, a Greek Orthodox theologian and an atheist scientist. w/stained glass commemoration of Uganda martyrs

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