Pope Francis will visit Africa for the first time in November in a trip that will take him to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic, the Vatican said Thursday.
The pontiff will visit Kenya from November 25 to 27, spend the next two days in Uganda, and travel on to the Central African Republic (CAR), where the trip will wind up on November 30.
A trip to Africa has been long in the works, but presented logistical challenges to organisers at the Vatican, including the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in west Africa, which has killed some 11,300 people since December 2013.
Francis, who has travelled to parts of Asia, Latin America and Europe since his election two years ago, had already talked about plans underway for his visit to Uganda and the CAR, before Kenya was added to the programme.
The three countries have significant Catholic communities and have been troubled by civil conflicts and violence, which will increase concerns surrounding the pope’s security during the visit.
Islamic rebels have staged a string of suicide attacks and bombings on Kenyan soil, including the April massacre at Garissa university, in which 148 people died, and the 2013 assault on the Westgate shopping mall that killed 67.
The Central African Republic descended into bloodshed after a 2013 coup against longtime leader Francois Bozize unleashed a wave of violence, pitting Christian anti-balaka militias against mostly Muslim Seleka rebels.
In Uganda, Francis will commemorate the canonisation by pope Paul VI in 1964 of the first African saints — 22 young people killed in 1878 on the orders of the local ruler because they refused to renounce their Christian faith.