“Passing to the other side” – the theme of the Holy Father’s recent Apostolic Visit to Africa – references the crossing of the sea when Jesus calms the storm and calls on his disciples to faith. This image is poignant for a continent that many see either poised for a leap ahead to a new “African Century,” or doomed to continued stagnation caused by conflict, bad governance, and environmental degradation. Pope Francis offered the people of Africa calm guidance in a stormy time.
1. “May you always be concerned for the needs of the poor…”
Throughout his three-country visit, he reminded political and religious leaders that the way of Jesus is to serve those who are poor and marginalized. Pope Francis made this point in the middle of the slum of Kangemi, a place where 150,000 people live in tin shacks with no access to clean water nor proper sewage facilities. He quoted an African proverb, “there is always room for one more seat at the table” to illustrate the wisdom of the poor, but he condemned poverty and exclusion as “…wounds inflicted by minorities who cling to power and wealth, who selfishly squander while a growing majority is forced to flee to abandoned, filthy and run-down peripheries.”“A highlight of my visit will be my meetings with young people…”
Africa is the youngest continent in the world. In 2010, 70% of Africans were below the age of 30. The Holy Father reminded leaders that, “[t]o protect [youth], to invest in them and to offer them a helping hand, is the best way we can ensure a future worthy of the wisdom and spiritual values dear to their elders….” He called leaders to feed the aspiration of the youth for a more peaceful and just society.
2. “Corruption is something which creeps in. It’s like sugar: it’s sweet, we like it, it goes down easily. And then? We get sick!”
Pope Francis addressed the problem of corruption in Africa in response to a question from a Kenyan girl, “Can corruption be justified simply because everyone is involved in wrongdoing, everyone is corrupt?”
Pope Francis replied, “Corruption is not the way to life. It is a path which leads to death.” He added that it steals a person’s joy and harms those living in poverty. It also robs society of peace.
3. “There is a clear link between the protection of nature and the building of a just and equitable social order.”
In his first speech in Africa the Holy Father said, “We have a responsibility to pass on the beauty of nature in its integrity to future generations, and an obligation to exercise a just stewardship of the gifts we have received. These values are deeply rooted in the African soul.” The Pope cited an African proverb that says that we don’t inherit land from our ancestors, but rather borrow it from our children and are responsible for passing it on in better shape than we found it.
This message is so important to Africa, a continent that is rich in natural resources, but mired in poverty.
4. “Passing to the other side, in the civil sense, means leaving behind war, divisions and poverty, and choosing peace, reconciliation, development.”
The theme, ‘Passing to the other side’ was most prominent in the final leg of Pope Francis’ visit to CAR, a country that is desperately struggling to emerge from a bloody two-year conflict. In a gesture that raised this peripheral country to the world’s attention, Pope Francis opened the Jubilee Year of Mercy doors to the Cathedral in Bangui and announced that, “Today Bangui becomes the spiritual capital of the world. The Holy Year of Mercy comes in advance to this land. A land that has suffered for many years as a result of war, hatred, misunderstanding, and the lack of peace. But in this suffering land there are also all the countries that are experiencing the Cross of war”.
5. “Ecumenical and interreligious dialogue is not a luxury”
Pope Francis stressed the need for ecumenical and interfaith dialogue throughout his visit. In Uganda, he along with Anglican and Catholic bishops prayed at the monument of the holy martyrs where in the late 1880’s 45 Catholic and Anglican men and women were killed for their faith. He noted that “[e]cumenical and interreligious dialogue is not a luxury. It is … essential, something which our world, wounded by conflict and division, increasingly needs.”
The Holy Father spent even more time discussing interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims, especially in Kenya and the CAR where violent conflict has been perpetrated in the name of faith. At the central mosque in Bangui, CAR he stated that, “Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters….”
On the plane home, the Holy Father told a team of journalists: “Africa is a martyr. She is a martyr to exploitation in history. Those who say that from Africa come all calamities and all wars do not understand well, perhaps, the damage that certain forms of development do to humanity. And it is for this reason that I love Africa….”