The Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) is overjoyed about the recent visit of Pope Francis to three African Countries, where he was enthusiastically welcomed by massive crowds that sometimes waited patiently, stretching into the distance from the early hours, especially, in Antananarivo, Madagascar. The Holy Father himself said he was in Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius from September 4-10 2019, as a pilgrim of peace and hope, while drawing the attention of the people of the three countries (and indeed the whole of Africa) to Christ as the hope of the world, and his Gospel as “the most powerful leaven of brotherhood, freedom, justice and peace for all peoples” (General Audience a day after the visit, September 11 2019).
In Mozambique, a country that suffered so much in the past because of a protracted armed conflict, and was recently hit by two devastating cyclones killing many people, Pope Francis said, he went to “sow seeds of hope, peace and reconciliation”. This is a profound and consoling statement not just for Mozambique but other African countries in similar circumstances. And for a country preparing for elections, the Holy Father’s call for peace and reconciliation in Mozambique is timely and urgent, as expressed by Rt. Rev. Sithembele Sipuka, Bishop of Mthatha, South Africa, and 1st Vice President of SECAM.
To overcome conflict, the Holy Father encouraged the authorities of Mozambique to tow the path of peace, “urging them to work together for the common good”, while thanking all those who worked very hard in the peace process in country, which was signed on 1st August 2019. He similarly exhorted the young people, who gathered from different religious backgrounds to welcome him to contribute to the building of the country and the traditions of the elderly, to overcome pessimism and anxiety, and spread social friendship. In a related development, Pope Francis lauded the joy and enthusiasm of the Malagasy youth, reminding them (and all other young people in Africa) of God’s love for each of them and how precious everyone is to him. He encouraged them to look for, and strive after the good in them and in other people; to always avoid the temptations that can draw them and other people around them away from Jesus.
In Madagascar, a country rich in beauty and natural resources and animated by the traditional spirit of solidarity but marked by much poverty, Pope Francis urged the people to “overcome adversity and build a culture of development by combining respect for the environment and social justice”. Bishop Sithembele Sipuka was “glad that the Pope visited Madagascar”, which he said “is an isolated and a struggling country. It was good for the Holy Father to give his paternal attention to Madagascar. It is a lesson for us in Africa to be informed about the needful situation of neighbouring countries in Africa and to support each other”. All this invites us to step up efforts towards solidarity, which is primarly about valuing our fellow human beings and respecting who they are as individuals (Sollicitudo rei socialis, 1987).
In Mauritius, Pope Francis visited a “place of integration between different ethnic groups and cultures”. The Holy Father noted a strong inter-religious dialogue and friendship between the various faith communities, when he found a beautiful bouquet for him in the Bishop’s house sent by the Great Imam as a sign of brotherhood. Here the Pope described the Beatitudes as the identity card of Christ’s disciples, and an antidote to the temptation to selfish and discriminatory well-being. “It is also the leaven of true happiness, imbued with mercy, justice and peace”. In his meeting with the leaders of the country, the Holy Father appreciated their commitment to harmonize differences as a common enterprise and encouraged them to continue in their efforts to welcome people, and maintain and develop their democratic life. Another lesson for the entire Africa.
At the end of his visit (the second to sub-Saharan Africa), Pope Francis urged those present at the General Audience on 11th September 2019 to thank God and ask Him that the seeds sown in the apostolic journey may bring abundant fruit for the peoples of Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius (and we make bold to add, the entire Africa).
We on our part in Africa and its Islands continue to thank God for the success of the apostolic visit and entrust it to the maternal solicitude of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary so that it may bear enduring fruits for the continent. Amen