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Looking ahead to Pope Francis’ apostolic trip to Africa
After five international trips in the first half of 2019, Pope Francis will embark on another long, jam-packed apostolic visit when he travels to Africa, including stops in Mozambique and the island nations of Madagascar and Mauritius, on Sept. 4-10.
This will be the fourth trip to the continent for Pope Francis during his pontificate, as he visited Kenya, Uganda and Central African Republic in 2015, Egypt in 2017 and Morocco in 2019. Despite the fact that Pope Francis repeatedly has said he doesn’t like to travel, he goes for many reasons, and not only to celebrate crowded Masses, meet civil authorities, heads of states, clergy and religious, and mark the usual appointments of each visit.
Pope Francis will continue engaging in interreligious and ecumenical dialogue, as all three countries have diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds.
In Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony, 56% of its almost 30 million people are Christian (over half of whom are Catholic), 28% follow the traditional local beliefs, and about 18% are Muslim. Catholics in Madagascar make up a quarter of the country’s population of nearly 27 million, of which at least half are Christian. However, a great part of the population still partakes in traditional, indigenous religions. In Mauritius’ population of about 1.3 million people, Catholics make up 25%. Interestingly, here nearly half of the population is Hindu, and 17% are Muslim.
Mozambique certainly will present a context for fostering efforts to engage with other Christian denominations. This follows two historical steps along this path: the pope’s visits to Geneva in 2018 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the World Council of Churches; and to Lund, Sweden, in 2016 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation.
Even before the devastating cyclone “Idai” in March 2019, Mozambique was one of the poorest African countries. The floods killed 600 people, and its second-largest city, Beira, was among the hardest-hit areas. The Argentinian pontiff is expected to make special gestures to extend his closeness to those so traumatically hit by the cyclone, to the many people affected by AIDS, and to the poor of the Matthew 25 Home (the chapter dedicated to the final judgment day in the Gospel of Matthew).
Another important element to keep in mind will be interreligious dialogue, first with Muslim minorities in Mozambique and Mauritius. Pope Francis already has visited two Muslim countries in 2019 — the United Arab Emirates and Morocco. In the wake of co-signing the famous Abu Dhabi “Document on Human Fraternity” with Ahmed el-Tayyeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar and former president of the prestigious al-Azhar University in Egypt, the pope will be interested in further engaging in this dialogue.
In Mauritius, much of the current population is of Indian origin and are known as Indo-Mauritians. It will present a good occasion to approach the Hindu world, since Pope Francis did not visit India during his travel to Bangladesh and Myanmar in 2017 for logistical reasons and a lack of an official invitation.
The pope’s travel to these African nations follows in the footsteps of Pope St. John Paul II, who visited Madagascar and Mauritius in 1989 and Mozambique in 1988. Pope St. Paul VI and Benedict XVI also traveled to Africa during their papacies.
Peace and hope are prominent themes for this papal visit. The motto for the trip in Mozambique will be “Hope, Peace and Reconciliation.” The logo has a dove to show the peace the nation desires to maintain after the dramatic civil war that won its independence from Portugal in 1992, which caused 1 million deaths and slowed the country’s development.
For Madagascar, the motto is “Sower of Peace and Hope.” The logo includes images of several martyrs, the native ravenala plant and the baobab tree. This tree represents a land of missionaries and witnesses to faith in Christ, even to the point of martyrdom.
“Pilgrim of Peace” is the motto for Mauritius. The logo includes the nation’s flag, representing unity among the various ethnic groups who live there; a dove, representing peace; and an image of Pope Francis.
According to the Vatican’s published schedule, Pope Francis and his papal entourage will depart on Sept. 4 from Rome and be welcomed later that evening in Maputo, Mozambique. The next day, the pope will make a courtesy visit to the president, address civil authorities, and hold an interreligious meeting with the young people. In the afternoon, he will meet with the bishops, clergy, men and women religious, seminarians and catechists in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. On Sept. 6, before taking off for Antananarivo, Pope Francis will visit Zimpeto Hospital and celebrate Mass in the Zimpeto Stadium on the outskirts of Maputo.
On Saturday, Sept. 7, after paying a courtesy visit to Madagascar’s president and addressing authorities, Francis will conduct midday prayer in the Monastery of the Discalced Carmelites and meet with the bishops of Madagascar in the Cathedral of Andohalo, before a visit to the tomb of Blessed Victoire Rasoamanarivo, who lived through a volatile era in the nation. In 1883, the country’s anti-French movements led to declaring all Catholic activities illegal and Catholic people traitors. Despite an arranged marriage with a terrible, violent man, Victoire Rasoamanarivo prayed for his conversion; later he would be baptized on his deathbed. She devoted her life to the sick, poor and imprisoned, with the rest of her time spent in prayer.
The pope later will speak at a vigil with young people. On Sept. 8, he will celebrate Mass. Francis also will visit the Akamasoa “Community of Good Friends,” founded by the Slovenian missionary Father Pedro Pablo Opeka, who offered homes and jobs to those living near the garbage dump. Then the pope will say a prayer for the workers at the Mahatzana worksite and address clergy, religious, consecrated and seminarians.
On Sept. 9, the pope will land in Mauritius, where he will have a welcome ceremony, celebrate Mass and meet with the bishops of the Indian Ocean’s bishop conference. Then he will visit the Shrine of Blessed Father Jacques-Désiré Laval (1803-64), a French missionary venerated as the “Apostle of Mauritius,” who cared for the ill and the poor in order to evangelize and promote the development of the black community. After making the usual courtesy visit to the president and addressing authorities, the pope will fly from Mauritius to Antananarivo in the evening. The next morning, Sept. 10, he will fly back to Rome.
Pope Francis’ next apostolic trip — while not yet officially confirmed by the Vatican — will take him to Japan and possibly to Thailand in November. He is expected to encourage the small, local Catholic communities to engage in interfaith dialogue and will launch a message of peace, specifically against the threat of nuclear weapons, and visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, two cities hit by American atomic bombs at the end of World War II.
Deborah Castellano Lubov writes from Rome.