The interim president of Central African Republic has thanked Pope Francis for his "lesson in courage" in coming to the conflict-ridden country, saying his presence showed the "victory of faith over fear."

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In a welcoming address at the presidential palace Sunday, President Catherine Samba-Panza said Francis' message of peace and reconciliation was necessary. She said that all Central Africans need forgiveness and pardon, starting with herself. She said: "In the name of the entire governing class of this country and also in the name of all those who have contributed in some way to its descent into hell, I confess all the evil that has been done here over history and ask forgiveness from the bottom of my heart." She said she hoped Francis' visit would result in the "demons of division, hatred and self-destruction being exorcised and chased forever from our land and that our country can find again the path of a new spirituality anchored in tolerance, love of one another and respect for human dignity and established authority."