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Pope reveals African priorities

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People arrive for Mass celebrated by Pope Francis at the Soamandrakizay diocesan field in Antananarivo, Madagascar, Sept. 8, 2019. PHOTO: CNS/Paul Haring

An estimated one million people turned out to celebrate Mass with Pope Francis in Madagascar on 8 September.

The country was the second stop on his three nation tour of Africa from 4-10 September which began in Mozambique and ended in Mauritius.

The pope’s message to Madagascans: that God’s plan for humanity involves community, mutual support, sharing and caring for each other and for the earth, followed closely the main themes of his message in each of the countries he visited.

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“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,” he said, celebrating Mass on a dusty, red dirt field on the outskirts of Antananarivo.

Madagascar is one of the world’s 10 poorest countries. According to the World Bank, 75 per cent of the population lives on less than $1.90 a day. Many had spent the night, sleeping on straw mats or plastic tarps and bundled up against a windy winter chill on the Soamandrakizay field before the pope’s Mass, according to local organisers.

People hold images of Blessed Jacques-Desire Laval, the “apostle of Mauritius,” prior to the arrival of Pope Francis at the shrine dedicated to Blessed Laval in Port Louis, Mauritius, Sept. 9, 2019. PHOTO: CNS/Paul Haring

At the beginning of his homily, the pope acknowledged the sacrifice people made to get to the Mass site and, especially, the discomfort endured by those who camped out. 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.” Rejecting violence, promoting interreligious harmony, caring for the environment and stamping out government corruption were high on the agenda as Francis visited the three nations.

“The pope’s very presence will be his principle message to the people of Mozambique,” said Father Giorgio Ferretti, an Italian missionary and pastor of the cathedral in Maputo, Mozambique. “Just the fact of him walking these streets, meeting the people, speaking to them will be a great message of peace.”

With a courtesy and solemnity seldom seen at a gathering of opposing political leaders, Mozambican politicians came together a month before their general election to welcome Pope Francis and pledge to work for peace and the common good.

The October elections 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.

A young woman waves the flags of the Vatican and Madagascar as people cheer before the start of Pope Francis’ vigil with young people at the Soamandrakizay diocesan field in Antananarivo, Madagascar, Sept. 7, 2019. PHOTO: CNS/Paul Haring

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, which raged from 1977 to 1992.

Tensions rose again after contested elections in 2013 and grew so sharp that violence flared again. Nyusi and Momade signed a new peace accord on 1 August. In Mauritius, the pope celebrated Mass on a terraced hillside overlooking Port Louis. Officials said 100,000 people gathered on the hillside for the Mass. Some held umbrellas, while most were wearing hats to protect against the sun.

Unlike poverty-ridden Mozambique, statistical indicators show Mauritius’ rapid economic growth has benefited all sectors of society, but Pope Francis still urged the island’s Catholics to be careful.

The danger is that “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,” he said at the Mass.

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