Francis in Africa. Our busy joyful Pope

Apart from Radio Veritas there does not seem to have been very much local media, radio or TV coverage of the visit of Pope Francis to the three African countries on our doorstep, but they are important visits for the region.

Of course, when all the South Africans and others from the SACBC region, who have taken the opportunity to see him in Maputo or Mauritius have returned we will hear their personal experiences. For the moment the Pope’s messages are relevant.

September has been MARFAM’s Heritage month for many years but the wider heritage of Our Common Home is being added as a result of the Pope’s focus on the environment, creation, climate change and its effects.  the new African news agency posted a headline which read, “Pope’s visit expected to calm people’s anger against God and nature in Mozambique.” The trip was planned long before cyclones Idai and Kenneth devastated parts of the country destroying lives, homes and livehoods. However, endemic poverty, armed, political and ethnic conflict and corruption were issues the pope was planning to address in the three countries through the themes of Reconciliation, hope and peace.

But is God to blame for natural disasters? Cyclones have happened everywhere many times before but, as was so clearly seen in the case of hurricane Dorian in the Atlantic ocean, weather patterns are changing. Weather is becoming more extreme; more heat, more cold, more rain, more drought.  It has to be acknowledged that we humans and our lifestyle are major contributing factors to this and other social ills.

Missionaries brought Christianity, and in particular Catholicism, to this region from 18th to 20th centuries adding to the culture and heritage of the different peoples of these countries with a variety of religions. Catholics make up at least 25% of their populations, which is much higher than in South Africa where it is less than 5% overall.  Each of the countries has lived through turbulent political times during these years and the Church, although it has justifiably been criticised,  has had and must continue to have an influence for good everywhere. The task today is not only bringing people to church, maybe in some ways still a western missionary church but also focusing on inculturation and applying and living their faith in their daily lives, their politics and their interactions with one another on all levels.  reported on the Pope’s trip. Africa is recognised as the fastest growing sector of the Church, certainly with regard to Church attendance, but the message Pope Francis brings goes further.

His encyclical letter Laudato Si’ calls attention to THE WORLD OUR COMMON HOME and the need to preserve nature and the whole environment. That is relevant and St Francis is our model and guide. Laudato Si’ also focuses on poverty and inequality while stressing that “Christian spirituality encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption.” That is relevant too and a great challenge.  This letter was used extensively in MARFAM’s daily reflections in September. See if not already subscribed.

October is coming up as an Extraordinary Mission month with a call to everyone to go out, “baptised and sent.”  In his earlier document, Evangelii Gaudium – the Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis begins with “The Joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.” But once again he challenges modern values and life-styles of consumerism and includes “a blunted conscience.”  Extracts from EG will form part of the Thoughts for the Day in October, intended to be a relevant way for ongoing catechesis.

No doubt those who participated in the various celebrations and meetings with the Pope will have been greatly energised and experienced that joy too of an encounter with Jesus. But clearly it must be the joy that Francis, an old and wise man of 82, experiences in his mission, despite the many challenges he faces, that is a source of inspiration for me and many others. We are vulnerable due to the situations we have to face, but as he writes repeatedly, it is the encounter with Jesus that matters and “let us not allow ourselves to be robbed.” TR.  FAMILY WEEKLY

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