COMPARED with “grandmother Europe”, Africa is “full of life”, Pope Francis said this week.
Flying back to Rome from a five-day visit to Southern Africa, he told journalists of a “very serious demographic winter” in Europe, which he traced to people deciding not to have children because of their desire for “well-being and tranquility” — a desire that would ultimately age them.
“Instead, Africa is full of life,” he said. “Children are the treasure of the poor.” Education must be a priority, he said.
The Pope’s trip, which took in Mozambique, Madagascar, and Mauritius, included several meetings with young people. In Madagascar, where three-quarters of the population lives in poverty, he visited the Akamasoa Association, a community founded by Fr Pédro Opeka in 1989 and known as the “City of Friendship”. It has helped to build houses for more than 25,000 people, giving rise to 18 villages and schools that provide education for 14,000 children. In total, half a million people have received help in the form of food, clothing, and health care. In his remarks, the Pope asserted: “Poverty is not inevitable!”
He began his trip in Mozambique, which is recovering from cyclones that struck in March and April, left hundreds dead and 400,000 homeless (News, 5 April).
In an address to civil authorities, the Pope spoke of the devastation caused by the cyclones: “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.”
In Madagascar, he warned that the country’s rich biodiversity was “threatened by excessive deforestation, from which some profit”.
“Within the collective unconscious, there is a motto: Africa can be exploited,” he told journalists travelling back to Rome. “We would never think: Europe can be exploited.”
While acknowledging aid flowing into Madagascar, he warned civic leaders in the country that being open to this finance could “risk turning into a presumptive ‘universal culture’ that scorns, submerges, and suppresses the cultural patrimony of individual peoples. . . If we participate in a process respectful of local values and ways of life, and of the expectations of citizens, we will ensure that the aid furnished by the international community will not be the sole guarantee of a country’s development. The people itself will progressively take charge and become the artisan of its own future.”
The last stop in his trip was Mauritius, where about one tenth of the population attended a mass on Monday.
The Pope’s visit was a “source of blessing” the island’s Anglican bishop, the Most Revd Ian Ernest, said on Monday.
“We see in Pope Francis a model of the Kingdom,” he told Vatican News. Pope Francis was coming to a multi-cultural, multi-religious country as a “pilgrim of peace”.