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With Pope Francis at the Soamandrakizay diocesan grounds in Antananarivo With Pope Francis at the Soamandrakizay diocesan grounds in Antananarivo  (ANSA)

Pope Francis’ apostolic visit –joy and fihavanana

At the end of Pope Francis’ three-nation visit to Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius many have described the Apostolic voyage as one characterised by joy.

Paul Samasumo – Vatican City

The images were powerful: Palm-waving Mauritians; Mozambicans swaying in unison at the Mass in the Zimpeto stadium. Then the there was the sheer number of Malagasy people who turned out to see Pope Francis – an estimated one million people attended the Papal Mass on the outskirts of Antananarivo. This Pope in the space of seven days conquered hearts and minds. He made friends, many friends. 

Other people have said to me that they found the joy of the people in these three countries refreshing.  

All the three countries declared a public holiday for the day of the Papal Mass. Governments pulled out all the stops to ensure a successful visit. It was good to see Church and state officials working effortlessly together. 

Starting anew in Mozambique

Some aspects of the visit remain immortalised in my mind. One of those was the speech of Mozambican President, Filipe Nyusi. A politician pledging peace and reciting the Peace Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi was, for me, unexpected. One could feel that this was more than just the usual political speak from Nyusi. How it will all play out, only time will tell. The litmus test for President Nyusi and Mozambicans is yet to come. It will be what happens after the general elections set for next month, October. Will the signs of unity on display during the papal visit hold or will all the peace propositions fizzle out like New Year resolutions? 

Fihavanana 

I reached out to some friends in Madagascar and asked them for that one take away from Pope Francis’ visit to their country. One of them told me, “Pope Francis has left us more united than ever, but above all, he has rekindled in us the sense of the ancient-old Fihavanana.” It was a concept that I had never heard of before. 

Fihavanana is a Malagasy term whose literal translation is difficult to capture because Malagasy culture applies the concept in unique ways. Briefly, Fihavanana is a term that encompasses the Malagasy concept of kinship, friendship, goodwill among human beings regardless of tribe, region or status. It is both physical and spiritual. A kind of esprit de corps among human beings one that surpasses money, wealth and sometimes even blood ties. During the visit of Pope Francis, the people of this Indian Ocean Island experienced the sense of Fihavanana more intensely. 

A Church where young people feel at home

As for Mauritius, all evidence pointed to one well-oiled government machine that is an island of stability and prosperity.

Yet for me, it was Pope Francis’s plea on behalf of young people that came out loud and clear. “Missionary momentum,” the Pope said, always has a young and refreshing face. “Our young people are our foremost mission,” Pope Francis told the Church in Mauritius. He encouraged them to make room for young people, and this includes learning their language, the Pope emphasised. 

10 September 2019, 13:01