Pope Francis arrived in Mauritius on Monday on the final stop of a three-nation Africa tour where he is expected to celebrate the diversity and tolerance of one of the continent’s richest, most stable nations.
Thousands of faithful gathered in the capital Port-Louis, some before dawn, waiting for the Argentine pontiff to address the small Indian Ocean island, a melting pot of religions and ethnic groups.
The pope will celebrate mass at the Mary Queen of Peace Monument, the same hillside location where John Paul II celebrated the eucharist during the last papal visit to Mauritius in 1989.
“More than 3,500 of us came from Reunion” island — about 175 kilometres (110 miles) — from Mauritius, said Josette, who is among those awaiting the pope.
Giant screens have been put up in Port Louis to allow devotees to watch the papal mass, and billboards adorned with Francis’ image have sprung up across the coastal city.
“It is very important for us to meet the pope. It is an occasion,” said Genevieve, 47, from Mauritius.
Mauritius comprises four volcanic islands and lies roughly 1,800 kilometres (1,100 miles) off the eastern coast of Africa.
The population of 1.3 million is predominantly Hindu but has sizeable Christian and Muslim minorities.
About 30 percent of Mauritius is Christian, with most being Catholic.
The island nation was briefly colonised by the Dutch, French and the British and since independence in 1968, has developed from a poor, agriculture-based economy, to one of Africa’s wealthiest nations.
It is best known for its position as a global tax haven and idyllic tourist beach destination.
The pope is on the last stop of his tour which has taken him to Mozambique and Madagascar.
Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth said the Pope would encounter a “true model of pluralism” during his visit.
“Our cultural diversity has never prevented us from creating an environment conducive to dialogue, understanding and peace,” he said.
“It will not be a visit of Pope Francis to the Catholics but to the Mauritian people in all its religious diversity,” said Cardinal Maurice Piat, Bishop of Port Louis, ahead of the papal visit.
Francis’ visit coincides with the 155th anniversary of the death of Father Jacques Desire Laval, a French priest who died in Mauritius in 1864 and was beatified in 1979.
The Pope will visit the mausoleum of Laval, known as the “Apostle of Mauritius” for his missionary work.
Every year about 100,000 pilgrims visit the tomb of Laval, northeast of Port Louis, on the night of September 8-9, to commemorate his death.
This year it was brought forward to September 7-8 to accommodate the Pope’s visit.
The pontiff will also visit the official residence of President Barlen Vyapoory, whose role is largely titular, and will also meet with Jugnauth.
Mauritius has begun planting some 200,000 trees ahead of the Pope’s visit. It is expected Francis will be offering a blessing for the island’s natural environment.
According to the World Bank, one of the greatest challenges for the island is adapting to the effects of climate change — which has worsened tropical storms and floods affecting it.
The Pontifex arrived in Africa on Wednesday evening, making his first stop in Mozambique. His return to sub-Saharan Africa hoped to provide a sort of thematic homecoming for a pope who has prioritised what his Jesuit religious order calls the global “peripheries.”
Pope’s Messages to Mozambicans
On his first full day in Mozambique – Thursday, September 5 – Pope Francis applauded a recently signed peace deal between government and rebels.
The pontiff’s visit comes after the government and the former rebel group Renamo, now the main opposition party, signed a historic treaty.
The two sides in the former Portuguese colony fought a 15-year civil war that ended in 1992 and killed about a million people. But only last month did they sign a permanent ceasefire.
In talks with President Filipe Nyusi, the pope expressed his “personal gratitude… for the efforts made in recent decades to ensure that peace is once more the norm.”
Reconciliation, he said, is “the best path to confront the difficulties and challenges that you face as a nation.”
He described the accord as “a landmark that we greet with the hope that it will prove decisive.”
The talks at the presidential palace were also attended by Renamo opposition leader Ossufo Momade.
The pope also commiserated with victims of the two cyclones that killed more than 600 and affected hundreds of thousands.
“I would like my first words of closeness and solidarity to be addressed to all those struck by cyclones Idai and Kenneth, whose devastating effects continue to be felt by so many families,” he said.
“I want you to know of my own participation in your anguish and suffering, and the commitment of the Catholic community to respond to this most difficult situation.
“Amid the catastrophe and desolation, I pray that, in God´s providence, constant concern will be shown by all those civil and social groups who make people their priority and are in a position to promote the necessary rebuilding”.
The pope asked Mozambicans to be vigilant against pillaging and unethical exploitation of natural resources “driven by a greed generally not cultivated even by the inhabitants of these lands, nor motivated by the common good of your people”.
On Friday, Francis scolded political and business leaders in the resource-rich but poor East African country who allow themselves to be corrupted by outsiders.
“Mozambique is a land of abundant natural and cultural riches, yet paradoxically, great numbers of its people live below the poverty level,” Francis said in the stadium, in an area of the capital where many people live in shantytowns with houses of corrugated metal roofs.
The pope visited a hospital for HIV-AIDS sufferers run by the Sant’ Egidio community and then said a mass for some 60,000 of people in Maputo’s national stadium.
“At times it seems that those who approach with the alleged desire to help have other interests. Sadly, this happens with brothers and sisters of the same land, who let themselves be corrupted. It is very dangerous to think that this is the price to be paid for foreign aid,” Francis said.
While the pope did not give any specific examples of corruption, Mozambique is still struggling to recover from the impact of a $2 billion debt scandal, which saw hundreds of millions of dollars in borrowing guaranteed by the Mozambique government disappear.
The head of the Catholic Church also told tens of thousands of faithful at the packed stadium not to resort to “vengeance”
“We cannot think of the future and build a nation” with violence, the pope said in a homily to a crowd of about 60,000 at the Zimpeto stadium in the Mozambican capital Maputo.
Speaking in Portuguese, he asked them not to follow the old law of retaliation “an eye for eye, a tooth for a tooth.
“No family, no group of neighbours or ethnic group and even less no country has a future if the motor that unites them… is composed of vengeance and hatred,” he said.
Pope’s message to the Malagasy
Francis arrived in Madagascar on Friday evening.
On Saturday, he opened a visit to the Indian Ocean nation by denouncing the illegal logging and exploitation of its unique natural resources and made a plea for the government to fight the corruption that is ravaging the island’s environment and keeping its people in “inhumane poverty”.
Francis urged President Andry Rajoelina to provide Madagascar’s people with jobs and alternative sources of income so they aren’t forced to cut down trees to find fertile soil, poach the island’s wildlife and engage in contraband and illegal exportation of its diverse flora, fauna and mineral resources.
“The deterioration of that biodiversity compromises the future of the country and of the earth, our common home,” Francis warned Rajoelina and other government authorities as he began the second leg of his weeklong trip to southern Africa.
Madagascar is home to 5% of the world’s plant and animal species, with around 95% of its reptiles and 89% of its plant life existing nowhere else on Earth, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Yet it is also one of the world’s poorest countries, with 75% of its 25.5 million people living on less than $2 a day.
Environmental groups and Transparency International have long highlighted the illegal logging of Madagascar’s rosewood forests and other endangered tree species as evidence of the rampant corruption that has made multimillionaires out of a few “rosewood barons” who have plundered the island’s northeastern forests.
“Your lovely island of Madagascar is rich in plant and animal biodiversity, yet this treasure is especially threatened by excessive deforestation, from which some profit,” Francis said.
He cited forest fires, poaching and the “unrestricted cutting down of valuable woodlands” as particular threats.
Among the groups trying to protect Madagascar’s environment is Catholic Relief Services, the humanitarian arm of the U.S. bishops conference. The group has had a presence on Madagascar for five decades and has focused much of its work on helping the rural poor find alternatives to cutting down trees for firewood or using slash and burn techniques to clear new land for agriculture.
“We work a lot to try to prevent that and work with farmers to help them with new techniques to kind of re-energize the soil so that they could use it again,” James Hazen, CRS country representative told France24 News.
Philip Boyle, the British ambassador to Madagascar, estimated that 200,000 hectares (about 495,000 acres) of forest a year are lost in Madagascar and by some projections most of the damp, moist forest will be lost by 2040.
“Unless there are measures to prevent mass deforestation and mass reforestation then possibly the most unique habitat on earth will be lost,” he said on the sidelines of the pope’s speech.
Francis met later Saturday with nuns and the island nation’s bishops before presiding over an evening vigil with young people.
In his off-the-cuff remarks to a group of giggling nuns, the first Jesuit pope gave them advice about living in religious communities. He told them to speak up when there are problems and acknowledged that superiors can sometimes be the source of their problems.
“Not all prioresses are Nobel Prize winners for niceness,” he quipped.
Sources_ FRANCE 24, AP and AFP
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