Prayers Answered: Pope Leaves Africa After Proclaiming Message of Peace
And 7 Memorable Phrases
Pope Francis left Africa today shortly after noon local time, completing his six-day apostolic visit to the “continent of hope,” after having given some 20 discourses and homilies in three nations.
One of his last activities was among the most significant: a visit to a mosque in war-torn Central African Republic. His stop in this country marked the first time in modern history that a Pontiff visits a conflict zone.
He exhorted Central Africans to work for peace, saying that “peace is not a document that is signed and then put up some place. Peace is made each day. Peace is a craft, a handiwork. It’s made with the hands.”
As well, he gave Central Africans an extra few days of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, opening the Holy Door in Bangui’s Cathedral on Sunday. (For the rest of the universal Church, the Jubilee starts Dec. 8).
The Pope also visited a pediatric hospital, bringing a box of medicines from Rome. He brought consolation to a refugee camp in CAR. He called on the world to learn from the poor, not just pity them, in a visit to a Kenyan slum. He thanked religious for their care of the disabled after visiting a charity home in Uganda. He added his voice to Jesus’ prayer for Christian unity in a stop with an evangelical community in Bangui.
And in message after message, he asked Africa, and the world, to learn from and follow Christ.
Here are a few lines from his various discourses:
Nov. 30, Homily: Each of us, in his or her heart can ask the crucial question of where we stand with Jesus, asking what we have already accepted – or refused to accept – in responding to his call to follow him more closely.
Nov. 29, Homily: Even when the powers of Hell are unleashed, Christians must rise to the summons, their heads held high, and be ready to brave blows in this battle over which God will have the last word. And that word will be love [and peace]!
Nov. 29, Address to evangelical community: God makes no distinctions between those who suffer. I have often called this the ecumenism of blood. All our communities suffer indiscriminately as a result of injustice and the blind hatred unleashed by the devil.
Nov. 28, Address to Ugandan youth: This isn’t magic. This is the work of Jesus. Because Jesus is Lord. Jesus can do everything. And Jesus suffered the most negative experience in history. He was insulted, he was rejected, he was killed. And Jesus, by the power of God, rose again. He can do the same thing in each one of us with each negative experience. Because Jesus is Lord.
Nov. 27, Address to Kenyan youth: Life is full of difficulties, but there are two ways of looking at difficulties: either a person looks at them as something that blocks him, destroys him, stops him, or he looks at them as an opportunity. It is for you to choose.
Nov. 26, Address at Africa headquarters of UN: In this international context, we are confronted with a choice which cannot be ignored: either to improve or to destroy the environment.
Nov. 26, To journalists, on flight to Kenya: Be careful of the mosquitos!
Pope to Central Africans: 'Resolutely Determine to Begin New Chapter in Christian History of Your Country'
During Final Mass of African Journey, Encourages Faithful to Renew Missionary Zeal
"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," Pope Francis declared during his final Mass in Africa at the end of this six-day visit, celebrated this morning at the Barthélémy Boganda Stadium in Central African Republic's capital of Bangui.
In his homily, the Pope recalled the two "other shores" that await the faithful, that of eternal life, heaven, and the immediate other shore, which involves us transforming our lives and the world around us.
The theme of the Pope's trip to CAR was taken from Luke's Gospel, when Christ invites his apostles to “go across to the other side,” to the other shore of the lake.
"Let us thank the Lord for his presence and for the strength which he gives us in our daily lives, at those times when we experience physical and spiritual suffering, pain, and grief," Francis said, noting that in all these things, the Risen Christ takes us by the hand and guides us.
Yet the fact is that we have not yet reached our destination, he reminded, noting, "In a certain sense we are in midstream, needing the courage to decide, with renewed missionary zeal, to pass to the other shore."
"All the baptized need to continually break with the remnants of the old Adam, the man of sin, ever ready to rise up again at the prompting of the devil. How often this happens in our world and in these times of conflict, hate and war! How easy it is to be led into selfishness, distrust, violence, destructiveness, vengeance, indifference to and exploitation of those who are most vulnerable," he lamented.
Artisans of renewal
Francis acknowledged that our Christian communities, called to holiness, still have a long way to go, and that, we certainly "need to beg the Lord’s forgiveness for our all too frequent reluctance and hesitation in bearing witness to the Gospel." The Pontiff encouraged them to do so during this Jubilee Year of Mercy, which has begun early in their country, with the Pope's opening of the Holy Door on Sunday at the cathedral of Bangui.
"Dear Central Africans, may you look to the future and, strengthened by the distance you have already come, resolutely determine to begin a new chapter in the Christian history of your country, to set out towards new horizons, to put out into the deep," he said.
The Holy Father reminded them of the Apostles, who were so full of enthusiasm that when Christ drew them closely to himself, they felt able to do everything and to risk everything with Him. "Each of us, in his or her heart," he urged those gathered, "can ask the crucial question of where we stand with Jesus, asking what we have already accepted – or refused to accept – in responding to his call to follow him more closely."
The Holy Father reminded them, "We are all called to be, each of us, these messengers whom our brothers and sisters of every ethnic group, religion and culture, await, often without knowing it. For how can our brothers and sisters believe in Christ – Saint Paul asks – if the Word is neither proclaimed nor heard?"
We too, like the Apostles, the Pope encouraged, need to be full of hope and enthusiasm for the future.
"Christians of Central Africa, each of you is called to be, through perseverance in faith and missionary commitment, artisans of the human and spiritual renewal of your country. I repeat, artisans of the human and spiritual renewal of your country," he said.
Pope Francis concluded, praying that Mary protects and encourages the Central Africans on their path of hope.
On ZENIT's Web page:
At Grand Mosque in CAR, Pope Denounces Violence Perpetrated in Name of Religion or God
Speaking to Muslims, Says Muslims and Christians Are Brothers, Sisters; Acknowledges Recent Violence Not Grounded in Properly Religious Motives
Pope Francis has said that Christians and Muslims together, 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."
The Holy Father stressed this point this morning when speaking to Muslims in the Grand Mosque of Koudoukou in the Central African Republic's capital of Bangui, reminding those gathered that God is peace. Pope Francis made his first Apostolic Visit to Africa, visiting the capitals of Kenya, Uganda, and CAR, and is due to land in Rome this evening.
"Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters," the Pope stressed, after noting it was a joy to be with the Muslim community. "We must therefore, consider ourselves and conduct ourselves as such."
Those who claim to believe in God must also be men and women of peace, he said, acknowledging, 'We are well aware that the recent events and acts of violence which have shaken your country were not grounded in properly religious motives." He also recalled that Christians, Muslims and members of the traditional religions have lived together in peace for many years.
Given this, he continued, they ought to "remain united in working for an end to every act which, from whatever side, disfigures the Face of God and whose ultimate aim is to defend particular interests by any and all means, to the detriment of the common good."
In these dramatic times, the Pontiff lauded that Christian and Muslim leaders have sought to rise to the challenges by working together to play an important role in re-establishing harmony and fraternity among all.
The Pontiff also strongly urged those present to make their country 'a welcoming home' for all its children, regardless of their ethnic origin, political affiliation or religious confession. If they do this, he explained, the Central African Republic, situated in the heart of Africa, will then prove a stimulus in this regard to the entire continent, as well as prove a positive influence helping to "extinguish the smoldering tensions which prevent Africans from benefiting from that development, which they deserve and to which they have a right."
The Holy Father also invited them to pray and work for reconciliation, fraternity and solidarity among all people, and concluded, praying that God bless and protect them.
On ZENIT's Web page:
INTERVIEW: What Does Central African Republic Expect From Francis’ Visit?
Bishop of Bangassou: “If the Holy Father doesn’t resolve this situation, no one will”
The rapid escalation of violence over the last few weeks in the Central African Republic put the last stage of Pope Francis’ trip to Africa in doubt.
In the lead-up to the apostolic visit, to get a look at this war-torn country, and the Church there, ZENIT spoke with Bishop Juan Jose Aguirre of Bangassou.
ZENIT: Your Excellency, a few days are left before the Pope’s arrival. How is this expectation being lived in the country?
Bishop Aguirre: With great fervor and joy! In the first place, when in response to the Bishops’ invitation – in the course of their visit ad Limina last May -- the Pope announced his visit to Central Africa, the astonishment and joy was infinite. When it was learned that Francis would come and spend the night at Bangui, the enthusiasm was exuberant. It convinced everyone that the Pope would sanctify this land with his presence where he would spend the night. Then, when violence appeared on the visit’s horizon and the situation became darker, we began to pray. Doubts emerged and, with them, nervousness. In the end, despite the violence and the risk of violent attacks, Pope Francis confirmed that he wanted to come. The whole of the Central African society, including the national government, is happy. Imagine that the violent, who are a handful, were very perturbed ... Now, the preparation is frenetic and the expectations are enormous that all will go well. Everyone believes blindly that the Pope will give good reasons to begin again in Central Africa to live in a tolerant society, without vendettas and full of future.
ZENIT: What are the people’s expectations for the Holy Father’s visit? What could be the fruits of this trip?
Bishop Aguirre: The three-year violence that subsists in Central Africa has led to a blind alley. Homicides and vendettas: since the arrival of the Seleka in March of 2013, there has been nothing else. With the arrival of the anti-Balaka movement, on December 5, 2013, things worsened further. Homicides increased, violence has become gangrenous in the society, the cities are divided between Muslims and non-Muslims, and a spiral of violence has been inserted up to today. In the last month hundreds of deaths were counted and even more wounded in several cities. At this point, with the elections of this December compromised because of the constant violence, all of us believe that, if the Holy Father doesn’t resolve this situation, no one will. This is now the hope of the people. It is hoped that, with his words, his gestures and his way of relating to everyone, the society will quiet and a path will be delineated for the pursuit of peace.
ZENIT: There is no doubt that the Pope’s trip will give visibility to a “forgotten” nation by the media and might help the International Community to react. What is the most urgent necessity for the Central African Republic?
Bishop Aguirre: That persons have peace every day, bread every day and that the various ethnic communities are able to coexist in peace. It would be the best thing for Central Africa. Without peace and bread, everything gets notably complicated.
ZENIT: The Pope will spend less than 48 hours in the Central African Republic, but he will hold a series of important meetings: a visit to a refugee camp, a meeting with the Muslim community ... Which do you believe will be the most significant moment of the trip?
Bishop Aguirre: Everything will be significant! A Pope’s visit doesn’t leave anyone indifferent, even if it is
ZENIT: The French army speaks of “high risk” for the Pontiff’s visit in this country. From your point of view, what is the present situation like?
Bishop Aguirre: If the French Ministry of Defense says this, it has its reasons. For the same reasons important soccer matches were cancelled in Europe. But Africans are of another metal. In several neighborhoods of Bangui, in the area of the Fatima parish, led by the Comboni Fathers, the situation is very tense. The parish is standing thanks to the support of three Fathers, with 3800 displaced and everything burnt around them, without life, destroyed. The Pope’s entourage will not go to those neighborhoods so as not to endanger all the Central African faithful that will follow him wherever he goes.
Bangui is a hornets’ nest. They can throw a grenade on the crowd as they did on November 4 at a university meeting, which, that time, didn’t explode. It was made in China. However, perhaps something will happen later. We spent one week at Bangassou together with 69 delegates from the parishes, preparing for this visit with prayer.
All this so that fear won’t be stronger than our hope. The illusion vanishes in the air. However, there is also fearful respect, because for one month the capital has been living a spiral of violence that 12,000 United Nations blue helmets and 900 French soldiers of Sangaris have been unable to stop.
The high risk denounced by the French has not decreased. Central Africa was disintegrated in three years. Red lines appeared everywhere, dividing Muslims from non-Muslims, fragmenting the capital. There is a sort of epidemic of violence, which generates the odor of a festering and tense society.
Pope Francis’ visit is lived as a process. The balance-sheet is of 120 dead and 300 wounded in the last weeks. His presence could stop all this criminal wild behavior. The formula is courage united to prudence, the gaze turned to the God of faith, in the strength demonstrated thousands of times by Jesus who “walked on the sea,” placating the furious waves that broke against the boat.
ZENIT: How can the Gospel of life be transmitted in a nation that suffers daily the consequences of violence?
Bishop Aguirre: With hope! When many others are in an atmosphere of great violence, the Church always stays; she is the last to turn off the light! We are here to make common cause with the poor. At Bangassou we take care of more than 1,000 orphans, run a center for the terminally sick with AIDS, four homes for the elderly accused of witchcraft, paediatrics, maternity, 20 schools and colleges, health centers ... all this is, in my opinion, an injection of hope for a people tortured by the violence of a few. Here we also say that, when hope is lost ... one waits to return to have hope.
ZENIT: You have been in the Central African Republic for 35 years. How has the situation changed in the course of the years?
Bishop Aguirre: Today I believe we are much worse than three years ago, when we were trampled by those horses of Attila disguised as the “Seleka coalition.” Today we are trampled by others, with different names. And I think that today Central Africa is worse than 35 years ago, when I arrived. The quantity of the people’s suffering seems infinite. The neighboring countries think of Central Africans today as real predators. They are not interested in persons, in the common people, but only in their gold, oil and raw materials – the multi-nationals and the countries that control them more than ever. The UN has sent Moroccan, Congolese, Rwandan and Bangladeshi peace troops. Coming in, they say that they haven’t come to Central Africa to die. When they are in trouble, they are taken out of the midst
[Translation by ZENIT]
Pope Makes Unexpected Visit to Pediatric Hospital in CAR
Francis Met With Young Patients, Staff; Brought Medicine for Children from Rome's Bambino Gesu Children's Hospital
Despite even more protective security than normal, given he was visiting an active war-zone, Pope Francis was not deterred from making a brief, unscheduled stop at a children's hospital in Central African Republic's capital of Bangui, reported Vatican Radio.
During the visit last night, the Pope met with some of the young patients and staff, and delivered to them several boxes of medicines for the children there, provided by Rome’s “Bambino Gesu” pediatric hospital.
Pope Francis' visit to Africa concludes today, after a busy morning of meeting with Muslims in Bangui's Central Mosque, followed by a Mass marking the feast of St. Andrew in the city’s sports stadium. The Holy Father is due to arrive back in Rome shortly before seven o’clock tonight.
The Central African Republic, which gained independence from France in 1960, is one of the poorest nations in the world. It has been plagued by ethnic and religious violence over the past two years. Tens of thousands have been forced to flee the country to neighboring nations due to this war between majority Muslim Séléka forces and the majority Christian anti-Balaka. The United Nations has warned that there was high risk of the country descending into genocide.
Pope Francis' visit to Kenya, Uganda, and Central African Republic, marks his 11th international trip and his first visit to the continent. (D.C.L.)