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Pope Francis arrived at the Soamandrakizay esplanade for a vigil with youth in Antananarivo, Madagascar, Sept. 7.
Pope Francis arrived at the Soamandrakizay esplanade for a vigil with youth in Antananarivo, Madagascar, Sept. 7.
Photo Credit: Alessandra Tarantino | Associated Press

Papal visit to Africa focused on peace and economy

Pope Francis visited Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius Sept. 4-10

VATICAN CITY — Drumming, dancing and singing erupted from the Zimpeto Stadium in the peripheries of Maputo, in the embattled African country of Mozambique, on Friday when Pope Francis reminded the more than 40,000 people present that “you have a right to peace!”

Mozambique was the first stop of the pope’s three-country trip to Africa Sept. 4-10, where he also visited the two island nations of Madagascar and Mauritius. He called for peace and beseeched the crowd to care for the sick and the marginalized among them.

“No family, no group of neighbors, no ethnic group, much less a nation, has a future if the force that unites them, brings them together and resolves their differences is vengeance and hatred,” Pope Francis said during the homily at a Mass at the stadium.

“An ‘equity’ born of violence is always a spiral with no escape, and its cost is extremely high,” he added. “Yet another path is possible, for it is crucial not to forget that our peoples have a right to peace. You have a right to peace.”

Pope Francis’ remarks come just a month after Mozambique’s president, Filipe Jacinto Nyusi, signed a new treaty with the armed guerrilla forces, Renamo, led by Ossufo Momade. The treaty was the third effort for reconciliation, following a first peace accord in Rome in 1992 that was mediated by the Catholic lay movement Sant’Egidio.

Presidential and general elections in the country are expected to take place Oct. 15, with both Nyusi and Momade as candidates, raising the concern of a resurgence of the violence that has characterized politics in Mozambique since it gained its independence from Portugal in 1975.

Beyond the conflicts and devastating cyclones that have ravaged the country, Mozambique also suffers from one of the worst HIV/AIDS epidemics in the world. Almost two million Mozambicans live with HIV, more than half of them women and children, according to UNICEF data.

Encouragement in fight against poverty, climate threat

In Madagascar, Pope Francis greeted packed stadiums full of celebrating locals, spoke to crowds numbering up to 1 million people and was embraced by many of the country’s youth, who traveled and waited for hours to catch a glimpse of him during his trip.

But while the pope’s visit to Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius was buoyed by an optimistic message of peace and faith, the realities he addressed at nearly every stop weighted his speeches and meetings with concerns about climate change, poverty and other darker issues.

In the capital of Madagascar, Antananarivo, on Sept. 7, Pope Francis called on local authorities to take more responsible care of the planet’s resources for the good not only of present generations, but also of those yet to come, he said.

Deforestation in Madagascar has become an increasing concern as a growing portion of its biodiverse forests are cut down and burned to leave way for cattle and farmland. According to photographic evidence, more than half of the forest in Madagascar has been lost since 1950.

Beyond the quickening depletion of the country’s resources, the citizens of Madagascar also face crippling poverty levels that leave 75% of the population living on less than $2 a day, according to the World Bank.

During a vigil at the Soa Mandrakizay field on Saturday, Pope Francis encouraged the thousands of young people to not stop moving forward despite the challenges of day-to-day survival and despite social injustice and instability.

Some may be tempted to give up, the pope said, adding that the devil often reminds us of our sins and imperfections to make us feel like however much we do, nothing can ever change, everything will remain the same.

But God, the pope said, wants you to share all your gifts and charisms, all your dreams and your talents.

Warning against ‘idolatrous economic model’

The island nation of Mauritius welcomed Pope Francis, who enalso couraged its people to embrace their rich diversity as the country struggles with past and recent forms of colonization.

Located 1,200 miles from the east coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean, Mauritius was the last stop of the pope’s three-country visit to Africa that also included Mozambique and Madagascar. It is the only Hindu majority country in Africa but is home to several other religions and cultures, largely due to the British Empire’s importation of cheap labor from nearby countries.

In light of the varied cultural makeup in the country, the pope called its leaders to take up the challenge of welcoming and protecting those migrants who today come looking for work and, for many of them, better conditions of life for their families.

The country has witnessed tremendous economic growth in the past decade, thanks to savvy financial policies that promoted tourism and substantial foreign investments. While today Mauritius can be described as an oasis of peace, Pope Francis said at the Rduit Presidential Palace that it must still remain vigilant.

The pope warned against an “idolatrous economic model that feels the need to sacrifice human lives on the altar of speculation and profit alone, considering only immediate advantage to the detriment of protecting the poor, the environment and its resources.”

“Those who suffer the most in this global profit-based environment,” Pope Francis said, “are young people, who are often unemployed and unsure of the future.”

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