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Apostolic voyage

Pope Francis supports Catholic church during Africa visit

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 Contents - Dec 2015AD2000 December 2015
Religious freedom: Catholic bishops face more than prosecution over marriage leaflet - Pat Byrne
Education: Religious education: parents' responsibility or school's? - Fr Pat Stratford
Apostolic voyage: Pope Francis supports Catholic church during Africa visit - AD2000 Report
Genocide: US religious leaders condemn ISIS genocide against Christians - Nahal Toosi
Germany: Pope Francis deplores decline of Catholicism in Germany - AD2000 Report
China: New clampdown on believers in China - Bernardo Cervellera
Religious freedom: Am I My Brother's Keeper? (Genesis 4:10) - Anne Lastman
Has the Messiah come or returned? - Andrew Sholl
Ordinariate Missal: "Divine Worship: The Missal" preserves Anglican patrimony - Fr James Bradley
St Clement's revealing Letter to the Corinthians - Peter Westmore
Letters: Euthanasia: letter to a PM - Arnold Jago
Letters: Synod outcome "led by the Holy Spirit"
Letters: Support religious freedom in India - Scott Schittl
Reflection: Christmas: a time of light, peace and joy - Archbishop Mark Coleridge

The pastoral visit by Pope Francis to three countries in central Africa Kenya, Uganda and Central African Republic was an expression of the Holy Father's deep pastoral concern for Catholics in this fast-growing area of the church.

In each of the three countries, Pope Francis was met by huge crowds of people delighted that he would visit their countries, and he joined with them in solidarity with the poor and the marginalised.

The three countries have quite different histories dating back to the European colonial period. Kenya was colonised by Britain in the mid-19th century, and gained independence in 1963.

It is a country of about 45 million people, and comprises about six major tribal groups, the largest of which are the Kikuyu people. Kenya is overwhelmingly Christian, with almost half the population being Protestant and a quarter being Catholic.

Although the capital, Nairobi, is well developed, and GDP growth is around 5 per cent, most people are still part of the subsistence economy in rural areas, and agriculture is under-developed.

A large proportion of the population are aged under 20, and educational services are well-established throughout the country.

The family in society

Despite the influence of Western culture, the family remains the cornerstone of society.

In his homily during the Mass said at Nairobi University, he said, "Today God tells us that we belong to him. He made us, we are his family, and he will always be there for us. "Fear not", he says to us, "I have chosen you and I promise to give you my blessing" (cf. Is 44:2).

"We hear this promise in today's first reading. The Lord tells us that in the desert he will pour forth water on the thirsty land; he will cause the children of his people to flourish like grass and luxuriant willows.

"We know that this prophecy was fulfilled in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

"But we also see it fulfilled wherever the Gospel is preached and new peoples become members of God's family, the Church. Today we rejoice that it was fulfilled in this land. Through the preaching of the Gospel, you too became part of the great Christian family.

"Isaiah's prophecy invites us to look to our own families, and to realise how important they are in God's plan.

"Kenyan society has long been blessed with strong family life, a deep respect for the wisdom of the elderly and love for children. The health of any society depends on the health of its families.

"For their sake, and for the good of society, our faith in God's word calls us to support families in their mission in society, to accept children as a blessing for our world, and to defend the dignity of each man and woman, for all of us are brothers and sisters in the one human family."

Later, Pope Francis went to the neighbouring country of Uganda, a country which has had a troubled history of dictatorship and the misuse of government power since winning independence in 1962.

The country has a population of about 40 million people, about 90 per cent of whom are Christians, half of whom are Catholic and a third Anglican.

Martyrs' shrine

In his homily at the national shrine to 22 Catholic martyrs, executed when they refused the King's homosexual advances, Pope Francis said, "From the age of the Apostles to our own day, a great cloud of witnesses has been raised up to proclaim Jesus and show forth the power of the Holy Spirit.

"Today, we recall with gratitude the sacrifice of the Uganda martyrs, whose witness of love for Christ and his Church has truly gone 'to the end of the earth'. We remember also the Anglican martyrs whose deaths for Christ testify to the ecumenism of blood.

"All these witnesses nurtured the gift of the Holy Spirit in their lives and freely gave testimony of their faith in Jesus Christ, even at the cost of their lives, many at such a young age."

He added, "I think of Saints Joseph Mkasa and Charles Lwanga, who after being catechised by others, wanted to pass on the gift they had received. They did this in dangerous times.

"Not only were their lives threatened but so too were the lives of the younger boys under their care. Because they had tended to their faith and deepened their love of God, they were fearless in bringing Christ to others, even at the cost of their lives.

"Their faith became witness; today, venerated as martyrs, their example continues to inspire people throughout the world."

Pope Francis said that the witness of the martyrs shows to all who have heard their story, then and now, that "worldly pleasures and earthly power do not bring lasting joy or peace."

He added, "Rather, fidelity to God, honesty and integrity of life, and genuine concern for the good of others bring us that peace which the world cannot give. This does not diminish our concern for this world, as if we only look to the life to come.

"Instead, it gives purpose to our lives in this world, and helps us to reach out to those in need, to cooperate with others for the common good, and to build a more just society which promotes human dignity, defends God's gift of life and protects the wonders of nature, his creation and our common home."

Troubled country

In travelling to the Central African Republic, Pope Francis travelled to a much smaller country, a former French colony of just 5 million people, but again, one which is overwhelmingly Christian. The Christian population is about half Catholic and half Protestant.

Since independence, the country has been held back by bad government and corruption which have prevented the effective use of the country's extensive natural resources.

In his homilies, he reached out to the people of the republic, urging them to take up the love of Jesus Christ, and his message of forgiveness.

"Jesus teaches us that our heavenly Father "makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good" (Mt 5:45). Having experienced forgiveness ourselves, we must forgive others in turn. This is our fundamental vocation: 'You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect' (Mt 5:48).

"One of the essential characteristics of this vocation to perfection is the love of our enemies, which protects us from the temptation to seek revenge and from the spiral of endless retaliation."

One highlight of Pope Francis' visit to the Central African Republic was his visit to a mosque in Bangui, the capital city,, following years of fighting between Christian and Muslim militias

His presence in the district was meant to show that the bounds of brotherhood between communities remain possible despite all the bloodshed.

"Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters. We must therefore consider ourselves and conduct ourselves as such," he said in his speech inside the mosque.

"Christians, Muslims and members of the traditional religions have lived together in peace for many years," he said, calling to mind, "the many acts of solidarity which Christians and Muslims have shown with regard to their fellow citizens of other religious confessions."

Tidiani Moussa Naibi, the imam of the mosque welcoming the pope, expressed the same attitude and commitment in his welcoming address.

The papal visit to Africa was an occasion on which the Holy Father confirmed the strong faith of Africa's Catholics, and urged them to hold out the hand of compassion to others, Christian and Muslim, as a means of transforming Africa.

The results of his visit will be felt for years to come.

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Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 28 No 11 (December 2015 - January 2016), p. 3

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