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Church in Mauritius Works to Sustain Impact of Pope’s Recent Visit

Interview with Father Heriberto Cabrera, a Chilean Salesian

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«The Pope’s visit, one year ago, left an indelible mark in Mauritius. Unfortunately, the pandemic arrived a few months later and blocked the Church’s plans to put Francis’ words into practice. It was really difficult to try to give continuity to what we saw and heard and so we decided to turn to the essential and focus on young people and on the care of the ‘common home’, giving these aspects priority, as the heartfelt words of the Pope asked us. Children here still wear t-shirts that recall Pope Francis’ visit to Port Louis. From their enthusiasm, we started again in order not to waste such a great heritage». This is what Father Heriberto Cabrera, a Chilean Salesian, who works in the diocese of Port Louis, tells Agenzia Fides.

Thanks to a timely and prudent action put in place by the government from the very first days of the year, Mauritius was able to contain the spread of the virus and limit the damage on an island at high risk given the huge influx of tourists and foreigners. But the Church, troubled by the situation, began a reflection on pastoral action and role in society. «Here, the impact of Covid-19 was not as devastating as in other places, but it has equally alarmed everyone and triggered reflection even within the Church. Cardinal Maurice Piat stressed that it is wrong to think of easily returning to normality after the pandemic, we must rethink everything, the liturgy, the way of being among people, charity, which cannot only be ‘Caritas’ but must be a new way of living in society».

What further complicated a difficult situation was the natural disaster caused at the end of July by cargo MV Wakashio. Over a thousand tons of fuel spilled into the waters off the island of Mauritius, close to the coral reef.

The Salesian says: «It was a tragedy that caused an infinite series of problems. Loss of tourism (the main job here), total blocking of all activities, and, of course, stop to all tourist trips on the whole island even if the disaster affects only the south-eastern part. The damage to the population is incalculable, even mentally. They try to encourage local tourism, but for the moment it is not working. Not to mention the ecological catastrophe, the smell that for weeks forced some schools to close, the enormous loss of fish and therefore jobs for fishermen».

The disaster has increased the effects of a crisis that has long affected the island and sharpened divisions. «We can speak – Father Heriberto continues – of a social crisis, also of a crisis of trust in the authorities that is assuming ever greater dimensions since the Wakashio disaster. People say they are tired of the government and the prime minister’s arrogance, of the fact that the people are not listened to, and also of the corruption that remains a big problem. I must say, however, that I was impressed by the response of civil society: thousands of volunteers made themselves available to clean the beaches, the trees, the sea, a moving phenomenon that united us all, beyond divisions. And, returning to the Pope’s visit, perhaps it is one of the fruits of the central nucleus of Francis’ message: to return to being united. In our very fragmented society, this is a decisive bet».

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