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Photo by LY Hoang Long - Mauritius Tourism

FEATURE: Francis to Visit Mauritius 30 Years After Saint John Paul II

‘Mauritius was made first and then heaven, and heaven was copied after Mauritius.’

“Mauritius was made first and then heaven, and heaven was copied after Mauritius.”

The quote is usually attributed to the great American writer Mark Twain, who was a visitor to the island nation and sang its praises. However, although he spoke the words, he was quoting an islander, not making an original observation. Having said that, there is no evidence that Twain disagreed with the heavenly analysis.

Vina MacDonald of suburban Chicago is quick to praise the beauty of Mauritius, where she was born and raised. She met her American husband, Eric, when both were in college in Paris. But she still has family on the island and said they are excited about the Pope’s visit, which begins September 9. As Vina pointed out, that date is special for everyone on Mauritius. With the Pope’s visit, it will be a national holiday and it is expected that people of all religious faiths will turn out to see the Holy Father.

Photo by Pascal Kobeth – Mauritius Tourism

Although people in any nation have their disagreements, Vina is proud to say that Mauritius is a place where people of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds get along and respect one another.

September 9 is the feast day of Blessed Father Jacques-Désiré Laval. This Spiritan Father (Holy Spirit Congregation) was the first person to be beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1979 and is regarded as the great missionary of the island, according to Aid to the Church in Need.

On arriving here in 1841 he immediately set about learning Creole and also devised a little catechism in the local language. He took the Gospel to the former slaves there who had recently been set free by the British government and tirelessly traveled by donkey to the poorest huts and shanties, dressed in his worn and repeatedly patched soutane. He died in 1864 after an immensely fruitful work of evangelization. He is still celebrated each year, in great processions which go well beyond the Catholic community alone. In 2019 these processions will take place on the 7th and 8th of September in order not to conflict with the main event, which will be the outdoor Mass celebrated in Port Louis by Pope Francis.

It had been 30 years since Saint Pope John Paul II visited Mauritius. As is the case with Pope Francis, the visit was the final stop on a 10-day tour. John Paul was coming from South Korea and Indonesia; Francis will have visited Mozambique and Madagascar.

Photo by Grey Hutton - Mauritius Tourism

Photo by Grey Hutton – Mauritius Tourism

Like John Paul before him, Francis will find a population of many ethnic backgrounds and faiths. There is no indigenous population, Mauritius being colonized by Western Europeans and later gaining residents from Asia and Africa. Religious faiths include Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus.

There was a famous indigenous (albeit non-human) population when the first colonists arrived: the dodo bird. The bird was large, tasty, and easy to catch. The human arrivals to Mauritius literally ate it into oblivion. Only pictures and a few stuffed specimens remain.

Mauritius is a tiny nation, covering just 790 square miles. Population density is high with about 1.3 million people on the island. Twenty-eight percent of the population is Catholic and is served by two bishops, 93 priests, 186 women religious, and 1,335 catechists.

Pope Francis, who has become known for maintaining a rigorous travel pace, will have a packed day in Mauritius on September 9:

10:40 WELCOME CEREMONY at Port Louis Airport
12:15 HOLY MASS at the Monument to Mary Queen of Peace
Lunch with the bishops of CEDOI in the bishopric
16:25 PRIVATE VISIT TO THE SHRINE OF PERE LAVAL
16:55 COURTESY VISIT TO THE PRESIDENT in the Presidential Palace
17:15 MEETING WITH THE PRIME MINISTER in the Presidential Palace
17:40
18:45 FAREWELL CEREMONY at Port Louis Airport

As for the suggestion that heaven is built on the model of Mauritius, well, that clearly is hyperbole. But a perusal of the Mauritius Tourism website will provide some rather heavenly images. And if someone likes to boat, swim, dive, fish, hike, golf, savor good cooking, enjoy the beauty of nature or practice their faith in a tolerant environment, the island might seem to be a bit of heaven on earth.

Diving photo: Photo by Pascal Kobeth – Mauritius Tourism

City photo: Photo by Grey Hutton – Mauritius Tourism

About Jim Fair

Jim Fair is a husband, father, grandfather, writer, and communications consultant. He also likes playing the piano and fishing. He writes from the Chicago area.

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