By Paul Samasumo
In Africa, Pope Francis has already been to Egypt, Kenya, Uganda, the Central African Republic, and Morocco.
One common thread stitches all the logos of the three countries Pope Francis will soon visit: Hope and Peace.
The logo for the visit to Mozambique is, “Hope, Peace, and Reconciliation.” Madagascar sees Pope Francis as a “Sower of Peace and Hope”, while Mauritius says Pope Francis is coming to their country as a “Pilgrim of Peace.”
The Pope is visiting at the invitation of the local Churches and the three respective governments. During the visits, the Holy Father will hold public outdoor Masses, engage in interreligious dialogue, meet young people, and speak to the country’s political leaders.
Overall, papal visits are of a pastoral nature. In this regard, Pope Francis will have meetings with Bishops, priests and the religious. As on most trips, he is scheduled to meet, in private, with members of his Jesuit order.
Pope Francis in Mozambique
On 4 September, Pope Francis will arrive in Maputo, Mozambique.
He will be visiting a country still recovering from the devastating effects of Cyclone Idai - one of the worst tropical cyclones on record to have hit Africa and the Southern Hemisphere. A month after Cyclone Idai, in April this year, Cyclone Kenneth also made landfall in the northern region of the country causing significant damage and loss of life.
Pope Francis will surely have words of comfort for the people of this country especially those who lost loved ones and property because of the Cyclones.
Mozambique – prospects for lasting peace are brighter
Mozambique, which gained independence from Portugal in 1975, is still contending with the effects of a 16-year-old post-independence armed conflict that officially ended in 1992.
Though the civil war was officially over, tensions persisted over the years and violence flared up in 2013 between the ruling Frelimo party and the opposition, Renamo. A new comprehensive peace agreement has finally been signed (August 2019) by the Mozambican President, Filipe Nyusi, of Frelimo and opposition Renamo leader Ossufo Momade. It is the third such agreement between the two parties. This time around, the prospects for lasting peace are brighter. Everyone wants to see an end to years of armed conflict and endemic tension.
On this visit, Pope Francis will no doubt be encouraging the peace process.
Rich, but still a developing country
In 2011, large quantities of gas fields were discovered off the coast of Mozambique. The hope is that the discovery will lead to a transformation of the country’s economy. However, for now, the Mozambique that Pope Francis will be visiting is still one that is among Africa's poor nations.
Madagascar – rekindling hope among citizens tired of instability
The big island nation famous for its Vanilla production is situated off the southeast coast of Africa.
Madagascar gained independence from France in 1960, but its people are fatigued by endless political instability and disputed elections that have sometimes turned violent and occasionally deadly.
The country is also rich in natural resources and boasts of a flourishing tourism industry. As the country’s Cardinal Désiré Tsarahazana told Vatican News, earlier in the year, “Our country is rich in resources (but) we are among the poorest countries in the world."
Pope Francis will therefore find in Madagascar a Church hierarchy that seeks to be a voice for the poor and marginalised. In the words of Cardinal Tsarahazana, the Church in Madagascar wants to be the prophetic voice that speaks boldly about the country’s socio-economic welfare in a non-partisan manner.
Madagascar – loyal and resilient Catholic faithful
Catholics of Madagascar are known for their steadfast loyalty to the Church and resilience as epitomised by Blessed Victoire Rasoamanarivo – a national hero and an enduring Catholic symbol.
Born to a noble family, Blessed Victoire Rasoamanarivo, in the face of great opposition, worked tireless to keep the Catholic faith alive when missionaries were expelled in 1883 during the Franco-Malagasy War. Eventually, when the missionaries were allowed back into the country, they were surprised to find Catholic communities alive and well -thanks to this woman convert. At high personal cost, Blessed Rasoamanarivo travelled all over the island, ensuring that the Catechism was being taught.
To understand how passionately the Malagasy feel about their Catholic faith, one needs only to look at the newly-created diocesan venue where Pope Francis will meet thousands of young people in what is being portrayed as a “mini-Madagascar World Youth Day.” At the same venue, the following day, Pope Francis will celebrate Mass for 800,000 people.
Only five months ago, there was nothing but trees and overgrown grass on the diocesan site. With assistance from the government, the Soamandrakizay field, situated in the suburbs of Antananarivo, has been transformed into a real showpiece arena.
Mauritius – the Church that caught Pope Francis’ attention
On 9 September, Pope France will fly from Antananarivo to Port Louis, the capital of the Republic of Mauritius. It is a two-hour flight. The Pope will spend a day in Port Louis before returning to Madagascar for his return journey to Rome.
Mauritius is also off the southeast coast of Africa. It is a small multiethnic country of 1.3 million people whose population is determined by the country’s history. Hindus account for 49%, Catholics 28%, while Muslims are 17.5%.
Mauritius has a strong correlation between religious affiliation and ethnicity. Citizens of Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin tend to be predominantly Hindu or Muslim. Those of Chinese ancestry generally practice Buddhism, Anglicanism, or Catholicism. Creoles (persons of African descent) and citizens of European descent are primarily Catholic.
Naturally, occasional fault-lines among ethnic and religious communities exist and tensions happen. Some of the challenges to national cohesion go back in history. However, the Council of Religions is a local organisation composed of representatives from 18 different faiths. It is an example of how this nation is fostering mutual understanding with the view to enhance interfaith collaboration among faith communities.
Over the years, Mauritius has undergone remarkable economic transformation. It is now considered an upper middle-income economy with growing industrial, financial, and tourist sectors.
A religiously diverse island ready to welcome Pope Francis
The Pope’s visit to this island nation has been prepared with the collaboration of the Diocese of Port Louis and the state. This is normal and occurs whenever the Pope travels. The government is publicly encouraging the population to welcomes Pope Francis with the same enthusiasm and pomp they demonstrated when Pope Saint John Paul II visited Mauritius in 1989.
The country’s Cardinal, Maurice Piat, told local media the Pope was coming as a pilgrim of peace. For his part, the country’s Prime Minister, Pravind Jugnauth, said, “It is not only a visit of Pope Francis to Catholics but to the Mauritian people, in all their religious diversity.”
The visit is expected to also attract people from Reunion, Rodrigues, Seychelles, and the Comoros Archipelago.
And, of course, Mauritius’ discerning and tourist-savvy industry has taken note and has been promoting the visit of Pope Francis with packages such as, “Escape to Mauritius for the visit of Pope Francis!”
No doubt, Pope Francis will be happy for those who make the escape. He looks forward to seeing them all in Port Louis.