Pope Francis returns to sub-Saharan Africa for the second time on Sept. 4 to Sept. 10 to visit the Republics of Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius. He will promote a message of hope and call for the promotion of reconciliation and peace, an end to poverty and corruption and care of the environment in these lands.
This will be Francis’ fourth visit to Africa and he is the fourth pope to visit the continent since Paul VI first went to Uganda in 1969. (St. John Paul II visited more than 37 African countries, including Mozambique, which he visited in September 1988. Pope Benedict XVI went twice and visited three countries.)
On Sept. 4, Pope Francis will travel from Rome to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, accompanied by the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin; the substitute for the Secretariat of State, Archbishop Pena Parra, who served as nuncio in Mozambique; Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the secretary for Relations with States, who worked 10 years in Africa; and Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
Mozambique is a country of about 29 million people, almost half are under the age of 18. The country gained independence in 1975 after four centuries of Portuguese rule. It endured a civil war between 1977 and 1992 between the Marxist-Leninist group Frelimo (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique—supported by the former Soviet Union—and Renamo—a national resistance movement supported by Rhodesia, South Africa and the United States. The civil war left over one million dead until a peace treaty was signed in Rome in 1992, facilitated by the Sant’egidio Community and the Italian government. After elections in 1994, which Frelimo won, there was peace, but it was unstable and trouble erupted again around the 2014 elections. Last month, however, a definitive peace agreement was reached, spurred on by the pope’s imminent arrival.
This will be Francis’ fourth visit to Africa and he is the fourth pope to visit the continent since Paul VI first went to Uganda in 1969.
Francis will spend Sept. 5 and Sept. 6 in Maputo, notwithstanding pressing invitations to visit other parts of a country where 28 percent of the population are Catholic and 20 percent are Muslim. But as two Mozambican Jesuits, Inacio Jussa and Jose Julio, told America, “Mozambicans have no egoistic understanding of the Holy Father’s mission either as a nation or the Catholic Church.” They said that the population knows he cannot visit every diocese and so “Christians from each diocese will come to Maputo to meet him.” Nevertheless, they admitted that many hope that Francis can visit places most affected by recent cyclones, primarily Beira and Cabo Delgado, but these visits are not officially scheduled.
His decision not to go to the cyclone-hit zones could be related to ongoing conflict in the Cabo Delgado province, in the north of the country, between government forces and an unknown terrorist group, and the reconstruction that is under way in Beira. An additional factor is that national elections are scheduled for Oct. 15, and the pope would not want to be seen as supporting any group. Sources told America the timing of the visit was due to climatic rather than political considerations.
The history of Catholicism in Mozambique begins with Portuguese colonization in 1498, then grew stronger from 1560 to 1783 with the arrival of missionaries, including Jesuits, Dominicans, St. John of God Brothers, Augustinians and Franciscans. The first native-born bishops were ordained in 1975 as the country gained its independence. The civil war was a difficult period for the church The new constitution of 1990 recognizes religious freedom and marked the renaissance of the church in this land.
The history of Catholicism in Mozambique begins with Portuguese colonization in 1498, then grew stronger from 1560 to 1783 with the arrival of missionaries.
Francis has five events scheduled on Sept. 5 in Maputo, the capital city whose origins date back to the 16th century. These include a meeting with the president at the “Ponta Vermelha” palace and then a major address to the country’s political and civic authorities. He is expected to express strong support for consolidation of the recent peace accord and call for the eradication of poverty and the protection of the environment.
From there, he will drive to Pavilion Maxaquene for an inter-religious meeting with 10,000 young people. That afternoon, he will address the country’s bishops, clergy, men and women religious, seminarians and catechists in the cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Afterwards, he will visit the “Matthew 25” House that cares for street children. He will also meet the Jesuits at work in this land.
Next morning, Sept. 6, the pope will visit the Zimpeto Hospital run by the Sant’ Egidio Community. It provides care for H.I.V./AIDS patients and cares for children orphaned by the disease through its DREAM project. Afterwards, Francis will celebrate Mass in the nearby Zimpeto stadium, and in the afternoon, he will take the plane to Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar.
The Republic of Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island and a “bio-diversity hotspot” with diverse ecosystems and unique wildlife, 90 percent of which is found nowhere else on earth. But the island is also among the world’s least developed countries with a population of 27 million people, half of them under 18. Its original people came from Indonesia and Malaysia but were later joined by Bantu Africans.
Christianity came to Madagascar in the 16th century with the arrival of the Dominicans, followed by the Jesuits, the Lazarists and later the St. Vincent de Paul missionaries. But evangelization came to an abrupt halt after a massacre of French settlers, including missionaries, in 1672 and did not revive until after 1869. The first native-born priests were ordained in 1925, and the first local Madagascar bishop was ordained in 1925. Three years after the republic established diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1966, Pope Paul VI created the country’s first cardinal. Today, 35 percent of the population are Catholic; 7 percent are Muslim.
Christianity came to Madagascar in the 16th century with the arrival of the Dominicans, followed by the Jesuits, the Lazarists and later the St. Vincent de Paul missionaries.
Madagascar became a French colony in 1897 but regained its independence in 1960. Since independence, however, there has been much political upheaval and corruption and today most people in this constitutional democracy are living below the poverty level.
Pope Francis will spend two full days (Sept. 7-8) in Antananarivo, the capital city, and will reside at the nunciature (embassy). On the morning of Sept. 7, he will visit the president in the Iavoloha Palace. Afterwards, he will address the island’s political and civic authorities as well as the diplomatic corps.
His talk is expected to focus on the island’s poverty and corruption as well as the urgent need to protect its magnificent natural environment. After this he will visit the convent of Discalced Carmelite nuns, where he will pray and speak to the sisters. In the afternoon, he will address the bishops of Madagascar and neighboring islands in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Andohalo. Next, he will pray at the tomb of Blessed Victoire Rasoamanarvio and later join thousands of young people for a prayer vigil in the diocesan field of Soamandrakizay.
On Sunday morning, Sept. 8, Pope Francis is scheduled to celebrate Mass in that same field for hundreds of thousands of faithful. Afterwards, he will visit the “city of friends,” known as Akamasoa, started by the Rec. Pedro Okape, a missionary priest from Buenos Aires, with the help of Madagascar’s poorest people.
In the afternoon, Pope Francis will pray with the workers at the Mahatazana mines for precious stones. That effort is managed by the Akamasoa project and employs 700 people. It is a significant gesture because while Madagascar's population is amongst the world's poorest, the country has extensive deposits of minerals and there is major industrial mining, but the people gain little and much of the mining has negative environmental impact.
“Today’s Catholics are found among two population groups: the Creoles (descendants of enslaved Africans), and the whites."
On Sept. 9, he will take a plane from Antananarivo to St. Louis, the capital city of the Republic of Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean, with a multi-ethnic (Indian-Pakistani, Creole, Chinese, French), multi-religious (Hindus 48 percent, Catholics 28 percent, Muslims 17.5 percent), multicultural and multilingual population of 1.2 million people. It was colonized by the Dutch in 1598 then occupied by the French (1715-1814) and subsequently by the British from whom it gained independence in 1968. Its government is modelled on the British parliamentary system, and the country scores high marks for democracy as well as political and economic freedom. It provides universal health care and free education up to the tertiary level.
The history of evangelization in Mauritius and the surrounding islands dates back to the 17th century. The first Mass was celebrated in 1616 by Jesuits. During the 18th century, the congregation of missions founded by St. Vincent De Paul arrived with French colonizers and then others followed, including English Benedictines and the Spiritans (Holy Ghost Fathers), the most famous of whom was the Rev. Jacques-Dèsiré Laval (1803-64).
The pope’s program here includes an open-air Mass at the Monument of Mary, Queen of Peace, and lunch with the five bishops of the episcopal conference of the Indian Ocean.
That afternoon, he will pray at the Sanctuary of Pére Laval, who after becoming a medical doctor, felt called by God to become a priest. Following his ordination, Pére Laval came to Mauritius in 1841 to work among the 61,000 people who had gained their freedom when slavery was abolished in 1835.
As part of his work for their evangelization and integration into society, he established primary schools for their education and chapels for their spiritual formation and founded several hospitals to assist them during cholera epidemics in 1854,1857 and 1862. A man of great prayer, he lived an austere, ascetic life and died at the age of 59 after converting tens of thousands. Some 40,000 people attended his funeral, and still today he is venerated by people of all faiths. St. John Paul II beatified him in 1979 and prayed here at his tomb in 1989.
“That Pope Francis is ending his three-country visit in Mauritius is particularly fitting as it was the endpoint for so many of those who were swept up in the slave trade from Mozambique and Madagascar,” Sophie White, an associate professor of American Studies at the University of Notre Dame who was born on this island, told America. She has just written a book Voices of the Enslaved, which focuses on the experience of slavery in Louisiana but also contains testimonies from Mauritius.
According to Ms. White, Mauritius was “founded on sugar production” and “was a slave colony that relied on the exploitation of slaves.” The Dutch first brought slaves as did the English later on. Catholicism “was established in Mauritius when it was a French, Catholic colony, and the French slave code required religious instruction and then baptism.” The code “was primarily left up to the discretion of masters,” but “the slaves owned by religious orders had a higher rate of conversion (as was also the case in other French colonies),” she said. “Today’s Catholics are found among two population groups: the Creoles (descendants of enslaved Africans), and the whites," she added.
After praying at Pére Laval’s tomb, Pope Francis will drive to the Presidential Palace, where he will have private conversations with the president and prime minister. He will also address the country’s political and civic authorities. He then returns to Antananarivo where he will spend the night and next morning, Sept. 10. After the farewell ceremony, he will board the Air Madagascar plane for the long flight back to Rome. He will hold a press conference on the flight back home.
Correction, Sept. 3: Antananarivo is the capital of Madagascar, not Port St. Louis