Vatican Radio is reporting that the Pope ended an historic visit to Africa today on a high note - preaching to thousands during the closing Mass at Barthélémy Boganda Stadium in the CAR capital of Bangui about the glories of the world to come and why it must remain a source of strength for believers.
"Looking towards the world to come has always been a source of strength for Christians, of the poor, of the least, on their earthly pilgrimage,” he said. “Eternal life is not an illusion; it is not a flight from the world. It is a powerful reality which calls out to us and challenges us to persevere in faith and love."
He continued: "Yet the fact is that we have not yet reached our destination. In a certain sense we are in midstream, needing the courage to decide, with renewed missionary zeal, to pass to the other shore. How easy it is to be led into selfishness, distrust, violence, destructiveness, vengeance, indifference to and exploitation of those who are most vulnerable…"
It was a beautiful closing to a trip that included many profound encounters with the faith-filled people of this poverty-stricken land where Islamic extremist groups such as Boko Haram and al-Shabab have beeing terrorizing the population, kidnapping women and children, and murdering thousands.
But wherever the pope went, he was met with thousands of jubilant supporters who were more than happy to hear his message of hope, faith, and family.
CNA reports that while speaking to Mass attendees at Kenya’s Nairobi University on November 26, he praised Kenya’s traditional family values, particularly their respect for children and the elderly.
“Kenyan society has long been blessed with strong family life, a deep respect for the wisdom of the elderly and love for children,” he said, and noted that families are important in the plan of God.
For the sake of families and the good of society, all children must be welcomed “as a blessing for our world”, he said, and encouraged the faithful to resist any practice which fosters arrogance in men, demeans women, or threatens the life of the unborn.
He gave a powerful, unscripted talk to youth in Nairobi in which he addressed questions from the crowd and spoke on a wide range of subjects from corruption to radicalization of young people.
“Corruption is something that eats inside, like sugar,” the pope said. “Sweet, we like it, it’s easy. And then we end up in a bad way. So much sugar that we end up being diabetic or our country ends up being diabetic. Each time when we accept a bribe and we put it in our pockets, we destroy our hearts. We destroy our personalities, and we destroy our country. Please, don’t develop that taste for that sugar which is called corruption.”
In spite of how rampant it is, they must resist it, he said. “As in everything you have to make a start. If you don’t want corruption in lives, hearts and country, start now, yourselves.”
He cited economic injustice as the reason why so many youth are lured into the kind of radicalism that has cost the lives of countless numbers of people on the African continent in the past decade.
“To answer this we have to ask why do young people full of ideals allow themselves to be radicalized in this way? They leave their friends, their tribe, their country. They leave their lives behind in order to learn how to kill. . . . If a young woman or man has no work, cannot study, what can he or she do? A life of delinquency, falling into drug abuse, or even into suicide,” he said.
“The first thing we have to do to stop a young person from being recruited is education and work. If a young person has no work than what future awaits him or her? And that’s where the idea of being seduced or recruited comes in.”
It’s a social danger which is beyond us and even beyond the country itself “because it depends on an international system that is unjust,” the pope said. “It’s the injustice of having an economic system where the person is not the center but rather the god of money.”
He encouraged youth to “pray really hard” because God is stronger than any recruitment campaign.
He gave a similar message to youth in the Central African Republic, encouraging them to “be like the banana” which is the symbol of life.
“ . . . [I]t always grows, always produces, gives life, nutrients, energy. The banana plant is very resistant.”
During his visit to Uganda, he celebrated Mass at a shrine commemorating 45 Christian martyrs burned alive in the 1880s on the orders of King Mwanga II who feared the growth of Christianity and because the men had rebuffed his sexual advances.
LGBT communities had hoped Francis would use the occasion to address the country’s prohibition of same-sex relations but he did not do so.
Instead, he urged people to become modern-day missionaries “to our families and friends certainly, but also to those whom we do not know, especially those who might be unfriendly, even hostile, to us.”
After leaving Kampala, Uganda, yesterday, he flew to Bangui for a 26-hour visit, making this his first to visit an active war zone. The country has been embroiled in a civil war since 2012.
The day before his arrival, violence erupted near a mosque that Francis was scheduled to visit which resulted in the loss of three young lives.
According to the Catholic News Agency, three youth were gunned down by machine gun fire as they exited Our Lady of Fatima parish in Bangui.
After hearing this, the Pope immediately asked the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Franco Coppola, “Can I go, can I go?” and the Nuncio replied: “no, Holiness, it is very dangerous.’”
When Francis visited the Mosque of Koudoukou in Bangui earlier today, he said that people who claim to believe in God “must also be men and women of peace.”
“Christians, Muslims and members of the traditional religions have lived together in peace for many years,” the pontiff said, adding: “We are well aware that the recent events and acts of violence which have shaken your country were not grounded in properly religious motives.”
“Together, we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself. God is peace, salam.”
As a sign of solidarity with the country, Pope Francis opened the Holy Door of Bangui’s cathedral on Sunday in anticipation of the upcoming start of the Holy Year of Mercy. This action marks the first time a pope has opened a Holy Door outside of Rome.
“Today Bangui is the spiritual capital of the world,” the pope said yesterday. “The Holy Year of Mercy begins earlier in this land that has suffered for many years as a result of war, hatred, misunderstanding and a lack of peace.”
In spite of the violence that has wracked so many parts of the African continent in recent years, the Church has been experiencing explosive growth.
"The Catholic population there (Africa) has grown by 238% since 1980 and is approaching 200 million," said Bill O’Keefe, a vice president at Catholic Relief Services, to CNN. "If the current trends continue, 24% of Africans will be Catholic by 2040."
"This trip, in many ways, has captured all of the core themes of Francis' papacy in miniature, from war and peace to interreligious dialogue to the environment to his passion for the poor," said CNN senior Vatican analyst, John Allen.
"In terms of insight into Francis' heart and mind, I think this journey has been remarkable."
The Pope is expected to return to Rome later today.
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