By Robin Gomes
On Wednesday, the Pope sets out on the 31st apostolic journey of his pontificate outside Italy, which will take him to Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius. Expectations are high regarding the September 4 to 10 visit. Some point out that the Pope is visiting a continent that is often wounded but which is capable of building a present and a future of hope.
In an interview with Vatican News, Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, says that the Pope will give a strong impetus to peace and dialogue during this trip.
Even though some generally associate Africa with problems, such as conflicts and epidemics, the cardinal believes that “Africa is above all a land rich in humanity, a land rich in values, a land rich in faith”, and he thinks the Pope is going there precisely with these feelings.
Promoting signs of hope
According to him, three features will mark this visit. “The first is the insistence on the theme of peace, then certainly the theme of the care of Creation, in line with the Laudato si', then the culture of encounter, and all this in a dimension of hope.”
“So the Pope will want to point out and promote all those signs of hope that are there, all the efforts that are being made for the resolution of the many conflicts, for sustainable development and for the respect and care for Creation.”
Using an expression of Pope Saint Paul VI, Cardinal Parolin says, “Africa is like a laboratory of integral development”. He particularly highlights the “dimension of hope and of looking to the future, starting from the many positive signs that are there within the continent”.
Mozambique’s "new page"
One such sign of hope, the cardinal says, is the peace deal signed in August 2018 between Mozambique’s government and the former Renamo rebels, now the main opposition party.
The Vatican’s top official regards this as a “new page in the history of Mozambique”, after a very complex and troubled past. Soon after the war of independence against Portuguese rule, a civil war broke out between Frelimo and Renamo factions that lasted until the 1992 Rome General Peace Accords.
However, instability and conflict continued but a new peace agreement was reached year.
Cardinal Parolin notes that, in all this, the Church has suffered much, but he is optimistic that now there is progress, development, the recognition of the role of the Church, religious freedom and a clear desire for peace.
He says the Pope is going to Mozambique “precisely to underline the importance of dialogue in general but above all with reference to this situation in the country”. Dialogue, he says, consists in renouncing the logic of arms to resolve conflicts and differences, and to seriously invoke the path of mutual listening, collaboration and cooperation for the integral development of the people.
The cardinal considers dialogue of utmost importance not only for Mozambique but also for many parts of the world marked by conflicts. “This is what the Pope asks of us: a new mentality, a new approach to these situations,” he says.
Pope Francis will reach the Mozambican capital, Maputo, Wednesday evening. Friday morning, he will fly to Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar.
Hope for Madagascar’s youth
In Madagascar, the Pope will find a poor Church for the poor, where Catholics from about a third of the population. Known for its varied fauna and flora the island nation is beset not only with deforestation and drought but also political problems.
Recalling fond memories of his visit to Madagascar some years back, Cardinal Parolin says the energetic and young country is facing many challenges today. The first challenge of the country is to offer its youth opportunities for growth and a future. Then there is a wide gap between the few rich and the poor majority of the country.
The Vatican official says that the “visit of the Pope will give an impulse to this effort to find the means to offer everyone but especially the many young people the possibility of development and a future”. In this regard, the Church, despite its poverty, makes its presence felt significantly, especially through its charitable and educational institutions, in order to be a “sign of hope for the population”. The cardinal said that the Pope will go to “consolidate and strengthen this commitment and this effort on the part of the Church.”
Mauritius - a culture of encounter, collaboration
From Madagascar, the Pope will fly to the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius on 9 September. Cardinal Parolin regards the country’s mixed population of largely Hindu, Catholic and Islamic faiths, as the “third dimension”, namely “the culture of encounter”, which, he says, naturally applies to all the countries and nations that the Pope will visit.
While in Mozambique the encounter is between adverse political forces, in Mauritius it is its multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multicultural composition. This aspect of the encounter between differences that is particularly evident, the cardinal says, will be an emphasis that the Pope will certainly make, in order to overcome all forms of discrimination, such as openness to migrants who often come from outside for a better life. This dialogue and collaboration must also be between the various religions of Mauritius to address and resolve the problems of society and the world in general.
The African continent
Speaking about the African continent as a whole, Cardinal Parolin says that Africans, first of all, need to be aware of their “responsibility in seeking solutions to African problems within their societies and their states”. Africans need to be aware that the destiny and the future of Africa lies in their hands and they need to assume responsibility in fighting everything that impedes development and peace.
Secondly, Africans need the attention of the international community, of the friends of Africa without vested interests, who really try to help this continent to use all its resources and strengths for progress.
Then there will be the other beauty of the encounter with Christian communities and Catholics to live this experience of joy, vitality and communion that characterizes the communities of Africa. The Church must be helped to grow and place itself ever more at the service of the Gospel and of the society in which it is inserted.