Pope Francis plans to visit the Central African Republic later in November, and you do not have to be Catholic to want to pray for him.
For this country – a land-locked former French colony situated between Cameroon and South Sudan – has to be one of the saddest places on earth.
As if to confirm it, just last week the Legatum Institute, a London-based think tank that works to promote global prosperity, released its annual Prosperity Index, which ranks 142 countries in terms of both wealth and wellbeing.
It would be little surprise that heading the list was Norway, followed by Switzerland and Denmark. But right at the bottom, at Number 142, worse even than Afghanistan, Haiti, Chad, Syria or Sudan, was the Central African Republic.
The country has a Christian majority, though the “Operation World” prayer handbook makes clear some of the sins of the church.
“A failure on the part of leaders to demonstrate Christ-like humility and graciousness in their walk and ministry not only stunts their own fruitfulness but passes on their flaws to their congregations,” it says. “High moral standards and honesty are frequently lacking in the churches.”
Despite considerable natural and mineral resource wealth, the country has been beset by military coups, civil conflict and intense corruption.
This all came to a head in March 2013 when Muslim rebel groups seized control of the government. Muslims comprise only about 15 per cent of the population, and since that time the country has descended into bloody violence. It is often now described as a failed state in permanent crisis.
Armed Muslim groups have killed thousands of Christians and forced many more to flee. Christian militia groups have responded in kind – despite being condemned by many church leaders for their violence – with armed attacks on the Muslim minority. Some 10 per cent of the population are now refugees.
Pope Francis will arrive in the country after visits to Kenya and Uganda. He plans meetings with religious leaders, including senior Muslims officials, and will call upon refugees and attend a prayer vigil.
But as the violence escalates, there has been speculation that he might even be forced to cancel his visit.
So pray that it goes ahead, and pray that he might succeed in the role of peacemaker. Few countries in Africa – or anywhere – are more in need of peace.