Pope Francis has arrived in the Central African Republic, a country torn apart by violence between Muslim rebels and Christian militias, on the last leg of his African tour.
There have been concerns about the pope’s safety ahead of his visit.
The Pope has said he is determined to bring a message of peace and hope to a country where elections are due to be held next month.
This is the third and last leg of his trip after visiting Uganda and Kenya.
During the visit, his first to a conflict zone, the pontiff will celebrate Mass in the capital, Bangui, but is also expected to meet Muslim leaders and visit a mosque in the city’s Muslim enclave, known as PK5.
When Pope Francis put the Central African Republic on his itinerary, he gave his Vatican security officers a major challenge.
It’s no longer full-blown civil war, but it’s a country divided – on the surface at least – along religious grounds.
Every day, gunfire and grenades ring out across the capital and countrywide, hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes into enclaves that are either Christian or Muslim.
It’s a risky place for a Pope to come, but of the three countries on his African adventure, the CAR has perhaps the most to gain from a symbolic visit.
Can Pope tackle religious divide in CAR?
In Uganda, the Pope celebrated Mass in front of an audience of hundreds of thousands of people, and spoke at a Catholic shrine dedicated to Christians martyred for their faith in the 19th Century.
The Mass marked the 50th anniversary of the martyrs’ canonisation.
On Friday, the Pope addressed an audience of young people in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, urging them to unite and take a stand against the destructive effects of tribalism
Central African Republic:
Population: 4.6 million – 50% Christian, 15% Muslim, 35% Indigenous beliefs
Years of conflict and misgovernance
Conflict only recently along religious lines
Previously ruled by Emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa
Rich in diamonds
10,000-strong UN force took over a peacekeeping mission in September 2014
France has about 2,000 troops in its ex-colony, first deployed in December 2013
War has blighted the CAR for decades, but it was only two years ago the fighting took on a religious form.
President Francois Bozize was ousted in a coup in March 2013, and a group of mostly Muslim rebels from the north, the Seleka, marched on Bangui, briefly taking control of the country.
Their rebellion tapped into a feeling northerners had of being excluded and unrepresented by the central government, correspondents say.
They targeted churches and Christian communities, which triggered the creation of the anti-Balaka – meaning anti-violence – militias, and led to a downward spiral of tit-for-tat violence which continues.
Towns and villages are divided, with hundreds of thousands of people displaced into camps divided along religious lines.
Religion in sub-Saharan Africa:
Christian population is 517 million (63% of total)
Protestants make up more than half the number
Catholics make up about a third
Muslim population is 248 million (about 30% of total)
1.1 billion Christians expected by 2050
670 million Muslims expected by 2050