By Andrea Tornielli
The Pope's journey to Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius is now over. They were five intense and extraordinary days.
Our minds are still filled with the joyful faces of the children, women, and men who accompanied Pope Francis along the sometimes muddy - and other times dusty - roads of Maputo and Antananarivo. The faces of all those people who animated, in the true sense of the word, the wonderful liturgies celebrated in these three countries.
The joy they were able to express, despite the difficulties and precarious conditions in which many of them are forced to live, has something to teach us all. It teaches us that we cannot calculate the well-being of a people according to parameters linked to economic data alone. A lively faith, friendship, relationships, family ties, solidarity, the ability to enjoy small things, the willingness to give of oneself – these are parameters that will never make it into the statistics.
The most moving moment of the whole trip was undoubtedly the meeting with the eight thousand children of Akamasoa, in the place which was once an enormous garbage dump, and where now there are small but dignified brick houses, schools, places of recreation. The work begun about thirty years ago by Father Pedro Opeka is one of the many hidden treasures of the Catholic Church in the world. A work that embodies Christian hope.
Thanks to the dedication of this missionary, thousands of families have regained their jobs and dignity, and thousands of children have found a roof over their heads, food and opportunities to attend school. The noisy and festive welcome that the children of Akamasoa dedicated to the Pope was nourishment for the soul.
How many Father Pedros are there are in Africa, Asia, Latin America, but also in the most problematic suburbs of the West? Contemplating the faces of those children - so happy to be hosting, in their home, that grandfather dressed in white who came from Rome - we rediscover the deepest essence of the Church and her mission: to evangelize and promote the human person. To evangelize means choosing to be close to the weakest and the discarded. To evangelize means witnessing to "the presence of a God who has chosen to live and dwell forever in the midst of His people", as Pope Francis said in Akamasoa.
Several times in these days, the Pope has urged priests, and men and women religious, to rekindle the fire of the authentic missionary spirit that cannot be separated from being close to those who suffer.
Pope Francis also invited us not to consider the condition of the poor as something “inevitable”. "Never stop fighting the baneful effects of poverty, never yield to the temptation of settling for an easy life or withdrawing into yourselves", he said.
The other common thread linking the events of this Apostolic Journey was a call for responsibility on the part of governments, political authorities and civil society, so that new paths can be taken on the road to development. A call for innovative paths capable of questioning current economic-financial models, making people protagonists in building a more just future, being more supportive, more respectful of the dignity of life, of cultures and traditions, more respectful of creation that was given to us so that we can pass it on to our children without plundering it.
These messages may have been pronounced in and for Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius, but they are also addressed to each one of us.