The Papal visit to Africa
Last week marked the beginning of Pope Francis’ six-day visit to Africa, the fourth time he has visited the continent since his appointment. Exploring topics such as war, corruption and climate change, the Pontiff sought to move the hearts and minds of people whose countries have been racked by poverty, violence and despair.
Pope Francis began his three-nation visit in Mozambique on September 4, whereupon touching down on the papal plane he was greeted with full military honours, traditional dances and huge crowds lining the streets.
Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi and two children offering flowers welcomed the Pontiff who had been travelling for 10 hours. The official portion of the ceremony was brief as Francis was not scheduled to make any speeches until the following morning.
As is customary during the flight from Rome, he greeted members of the media travelling with him and thanked them for the work they would do over the next week as he visited Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius. “Let’s hope this long trip bears fruit,” he said.
On his first full day in Mozambique, a country torn apart by a civil war from 1977 to 1992 and still struggling with violence, Pope Francis said lasting peace is not the mere absence of armed conflict but a tireless commitment to secure equal opportunities for all, because if some “are left on the fringes”, aggression will eventually explode.
“The pursuit of lasting peace,” Francis said, “calls for strenuous, constant and unremitting effort, for peace is like a delicate flower, struggling to blossom on the stony ground of violence.”
He added that peace demands that humanity continue “with determination but without fanaticism, with courage but without exaltation, with tenacity but in an intelligent way, to promote peace and reconciliation, not the violence that brings only destruction”.
Opposing political leaders gathered a month before their general election to welcome the Pontiff and listen to his encouraging words.
The elections on October 15 will see the current president, Filipe Nyusi, leader of the Frelimo party, run against Ossufo Momade, leader of the opposition Renamo party, and against Daviz Simango, president of the Democratic Movement of Mozambique.
In the southern Africa country, party politics has not been simply a matter of policy arguments; Frelimo and Renamo were the main opponents in the Mozambican civil war. Tensions rose again after contested elections in 2013 and grew so intense that violence flared again. Nyusi and Momade signed a new peace accord on August 1 which the Pope praised. The Church played a key role in the original negotiations, with the deal being signed in Rome at the headquarters of the Community of Sant’Egidio, one of the “new movements” in Catholicism.
After his remarks in Ponta Vermelha Palace, the Pontiff was scheduled to lead an interreligious meeting with the 4,000 young people at the Mazaquene Pavillon focusing on themes of peace, reconciliation and care for creation.
Pope Francis, joining the spirit of the gathering, mostly followed his prepared text, but had the young people repeat several phrases as a chant, including “don’t give up” and “always together”.
At a gathering that began with songs and dances, the Pope told the Christians, Hindus and Muslims that “a shared and celebrated joy that reconciles is the best antidote to all those who want to create dissension, division and conflict”. Then he added, “Be attentive! They want to divide you!”
He also reminded the young people that, despite their religious differences, all of their faiths teach that God loves the people he created and that, in his eyes, each one has enormous worth.
The young people’s clapping, shouting and ululating stopped when the Pope asked each of them to consider in silence how much God loves them. They bowed their heads.
“This love of God is simple, silent and discreet,” the Pope said. “It does not overpower us or force itself on us; it is not strident or flashy.”
“I know that you believe in this love that makes reconciliation possible,” he said. “And because you believe in this love, I am certain that you are hopeful and that you will not fail to walk joyfully in the ways of peace.”
This centre shows us that there are always people ready to stop and show compassion”
The Pope ended his visit to Mozambique the following day with a visit to a health centre founded to care for people living with HIV/AIDS and with a Mass nearby in Maputo’s Zimpeto Stadium. At the DREAM Centre, a medical clinic sponsored by the Rome-based Community of Sant’Egidio, but now fully staffed by Mozambican doctors, nurses and laboratory technicians, Francis praised the incredible work that supports sick women and children.
“Seeing the competence, professionalism and love with which you receive and care for so many suffering persons, particularly patients with HIV-AIDS, and especially mothers and children, makes me think of the parable of the Good Samaritan,” Francis said at the clinic in Maputo.
“All those who come here, with despair and anguish, are like the man lying on the side of the road. Those of you here have refused to walk by or continue on your way…This centre shows us that there are always people ready to stop and show compassion, who do not yield to the temptation to say ‘There is nothing to be done’ or ‘It’s impossible to fight this scourge’. Instead, you have set about finding solutions.”
Some 20% of Mozambican adults are HIV positive and an estimated 100,000 people have been helped through the DREAM project, and as Francis said, are today able to smile because they were cured with dignity in their dignity.
After the visit to the hospital, Francis was scheduled to celebrate Mass in the National Zimpeto Stadium, with a capacity for some 42,000 people.
In his homily, he said a true and long-lasting peace can be achieved only through reconciliation, which requires meeting with, speaking to, trying to understand and praying for those who had been enemies.
“Jesus wants to end forever that common practice of being Christians yet living under the law of retaliation.
“We cannot look to the future, or build a nation, an equitable society, on the basis of violence. I cannot follow Jesus if I live my life by the rule of ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for tooth’.”
Following the Mass, the Pope headed to the airport to begin the second leg of his African tour in Madagascar, where he focused firstly on the topic of environmental destruction and biodiversity, urging government officials to promote development projects that protect nature.
The crisis facing the island nation in the Indian Ocean is “both social and environmental”, the Pope said on September 7 as he met President Andry Rajoelina, other government officials, diplomats serving in Madagascar and representatives of major aid and development agencies.
Though it’s common to think about the Amazon and the Congo basin when it comes to deforestation, Madagascar isn’t far behind. According to the Global Forest Watch, a research platform that studies the satellite images of NASA, from 2001 to 2018, Madagascar lost 3.6 million hectares, the equivalent of 21% of its total forest.
Pope Francis told the politicians and ambassadors, “We cannot speak of integral development without showing consideration and care for our common home,” which means that a way must be found to preserve natural resources, while also investing in education, health care and job creation. Madagascar is consistently ranked as one of the world’s 10 poorest countries. According to the World Bank, 75% of the population lives on less than $1.90 (€1.72) a day.
The Pope told thousands of young Africans…that they are entrusted to make the Church and their country better, despite the hardships they will face”
“We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental,” he said, quoting Laudato Si’, his encyclical on ‘integral ecology’.
“In a word,” he said, “there can be no true ecological approach or effective efforts to safeguard the environment without the attainment of a social justice capable of respecting the right to the common destination of earth’s goods, not only of present generations, but also of those yet to come.”
After fulfilling the required protocol obligations with the government leaders, Pope Francis went to a Discalced Carmelite monastery to meet about 100 nuns representing the island’s contemplative communities.
He gave the sisters a copy of his prepared text, but then spoke off the cuff about the importance of love and concern within religious communities.
“I know that all of you cloistered nuns have come to be close to the Lord, to seek the way of perfection. But the way to perfection is found in these small steps on the way of obedience, small steps of charity and love,” the Pontiff said at the Carmel of St Joseph in Antananarivo. He also warned the nuns against the temptation to worldliness, which can “come in so many hidden ways”. If they feel tempted or feel without peace, he said they should pray and speak to their community about it.
“Close the door [to the devil] and think about little gestures of love. They are saving the world,” he encouraged. “Be brave, the courage to take small steps, the courage to believe that my little God is happy and God is saving the world.”
That evening, the Pope led tens of thousands of young Africans in prayer, telling them that they are entrusted to make the Church and their country better, despite the hardships they will face.
“Through you, the future is coming to Madagascar and to the Church,” the Pope told approximately 100,000 people in the diocesan Soamandrakizay field on September 7.
“The Lord is the first to trust in you, but he also asks you to trust in yourselves and your own skills and abilities, which are many,” he continued. Jesus “wants to change us and to make our lives a mission”.
Bishop Fulgence Razakarivony of Ihosy noted that youth in Madagascar represent more than 60% of the population, and they are “full of enthusiasm and vitality, looking for a better future, but also face multiple difficulties on a social, cultural, and intellectual level”.
The bishop noted that from the foundation of the Church in Madagascar, lay people have been fundamental in evangelisation. “The Lord is not looking for lone adventurers. He gives us a mission, yes, but he does not send us out alone to the frontlines,” Francis explained.
“It is impossible to be a missionary disciple all by ourselves,” he said. “Certainly, we can accomplish great things on our own, but together we can dream of and undertake things undreamt of!”
He asked the young people of Madagascar to respond to God’s call like Mary did, by saying ‘yes’ and setting off. “It is the ‘yes’ of all those willing to commit themselves and take risks, ready to stake everything, with no guarantee except the sure conviction of knowing they are bearers of a promise.”
The next morning, the Pope addressed close to 1 million people gathered on the Soamandrakizay field, many of whom had spent the night sleeping on straw mats or plastic tarps. Pope Francis told Madagascan Catholics that following Jesus can be demanding, but that Christ calls his disciples to place God at the centre of their lives.
“As we look around us, how many men and women, young people and children are suffering and in utter need! This is not part of God’s plan. How urgently Jesus calls us to die to our self-centredness, our individualism and our pride!” the Pontiff said.
Madagascan President Andry Rajoelina, a Catholic, and his wife, Mialy, sat near the front of the crowd as Pope Francis preached about the Gospel call to solidarity and the joy that comes from putting faith before power or possessions. He urged the nation’s people “to make your beautiful country a place where the Gospel becomes life and where life is for the greater glory of God”.
Later that day Pope Francis visited the “City of Friendship”, a town on the outskirts of Antananarivo, Madagascar, also known as Akamasoa which has been built through the leadership of Argentine priest Fr Pedro Opeka, CM, who as a young man was a theology student of the future Pope.
Speaking to the young people that had congregated to see him, Francis said that Akamasoa “reflects a long history of courage and mutual assistance. This city is the fruit of many years of hard work. At its foundations, we find a living Faith translated into concrete actions capable of ‘moving mountains.’
“A Faith that made it possible to see opportunity in place of insecurity; to see hope in place of inevitability; to see life in a place that spoke only of death and destruction.”
There are 3,000 masons involved in the project, and work is never lacking. Akamasoa, defined by Fr Opeka as a “solidarity project,” features schools, hospitals, training centres, parks and even a stadium, where some 10,000 people go to Mass every Sunday. Nearly 30,000 people live in the brick homes of Akamasoa’s 18 villages, and all children living in the villages attend schools built by the community.
Francis wrapped up his six-day trip on the island nation of Mauritius this Monday, stressing that Christians must not be lazy or dissuaded in spreading the Gospel message.
“We need to foster this missionary momentum because it can happen that, as the Church of Christ, we can yield to the temptation to lose our enthusiasm for evangelisation by taking refuge in worldly securities that slowly but surely not only affect the mission but actually hamper it and prevent it from drawing people together.”
The Pontiff only stayed on the multiethnic island nation in the Indian Ocean for eight hours which has seen rapid economic growth benefiting all sectors of society and lifting people out of poverty over the past 30 years. He warned that given the new-found wealth, the country should not be complacent about its young people, many of whom are unemployed.
Let us not deprive ourselves of the young face of the Church and of society”
“Our young people are our foremost mission!” he emphasised. “We must invite them to find their happiness in Jesus; not by speaking to them in an aloof or distant way, but by learning how to make room for them, ‘learning their language’, listening to their stories, spending time with them and making them feel that they too are blessed by God.
“Let us not deprive ourselves of the young face of the Church and of society. Let us not allow those who deal in death to rob the first fruits of this land!” he urged.
Francis broached a similar theme during his afternoon speech with government officials, civic leaders and members of the diplomatic corps, admonishing them not to be tempted by corruption.
“By your conduct and your determination to combat all forms of corruption, may you demonstrate the grandeur of your commitment in service to the common good, and always be worthy of the trust placed in you by your fellow citizens,” Francis said, adding that creating a sustainable island for all is a priority. “I would like to encourage you to promote an economic policy focused on people and in a position to favour a better division of income, the creation of jobs and the integral promotion of the poor.”
The final visit was short but the Pontiff’s direct words will have a lasting impact on the country. With the papal trip complete, Francis flew back to Madagascar to stay the night and headed back to Rome on Tuesday morning.