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Pope Francis calls for unity to avoid conflict in Central African Republic

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Pope Francis congratulated local and foreign officials "for the efforts you have made to lead the country into this stage"

Pope Francis on Sunday called on the Central African Republic's transitional government and its people to take inspiration from the national motto of "unity, dignity and work" to overcome the religious conflict that has claimed the lives of thousands of people over the past two years.

The pontiff met with interim President Catherine Samba-Panza and members of the diplomatic corps.

Pope Francis congratulated local and foreign officials "for the efforts you have made to lead the country into this stage."

The Central African Republic will hold a constitutional referendum on Dec. 13 and presidential elections are scheduled to take place two weeks later, with the two events bringing the transition to an end and opening the way for the country's reconstruction.

The national motto expresses "the aspirations of all Central Africans," the pope said, adding that it provided a "sure compass for the authorities to guide the country's destiny" and represented "more a work in progress than a finished program."

Pope Francis used his address at the presidential palace to tell officials to "be an example for your countrymen."

"You should live and build keeping in mind the wonderful diversity of the world, avoiding the temptation to fear others, those who are not familiar, those who do not belong to our ethnic group," the pontiff said.

The Central African Republic has been plagued by instability since the Seleka rebel militia alliance, the majority of whose members are Muslim, overthrew President François Bozize in 2013, setting off a conflict with Christian and animist militias.

The pope's visit is expected to ease tensions ahead of the Dec. 27 presidential election.

EFE