The leitmotiv of the Pope's visits to each of the African countries are as follows Hope, peace and reconciliation on the trip to Mozambique; Sower of peace and hope in Madagascar, and Pope Francis, pilgrim of peace in Mauritius. Peace certainly seems to be the common thread of the next visit of Peter's successor to the African continent. Each country has its different culture and customs, even if we sometimes refer to Africa as a whole. We should better mention which African country we are visiting, because every corner of this continent is different and rich in its diversity.
This apostolic journey will be the fourth occasion on which Pope Francis visits Africa, following those to Kenya, Uganda and Central African Republic (East Africa) in November 2015, Egypt in April 2017 and Morocco in March 2019. Before synthesizing some of the Pope's main messages on these trips, it is worth mentioning the current situation in Mozambique, a country of Portuguese and Bantu tradition. The Pope's travel schedule is not yet final at this writing, but the Mozambican bishops are hopeful that the Pope will be able to travel from Maputo to Beira, which is a thousand kilometers from Maputo.
Cyclones and aftermath of war
Four weeks ago, Cyclone Kenneth left Mozambique, leaving behind even greater destruction than that of Idai, which devastated the country in March. Of all the provinces, Sofala and its capital, Beira, were the hardest hit by the two cyclones, leaving a trail of humanitarian emergency which, as Bishop Dalla Zuanna emphasized, is focused above all on food and housing.
As for the aftermath of the civil war that ended in 1992, Mozambique is a country where peace still does not reign. Adriano Langa, Bishop of Inhambane, "The wounds of war do not close like turning off a faucet", the marks and aftermath of long years of armed conflict are still visible. The prelate explained to Aid to the Church in Need that there is still a long way to go before people can truly live in peace. "We say that war kills even after the guns have fallen silent.", Langa points out. The civil war in Mozambique, which lasted from 1977 to 1992, left nearly one million people dead. In addition, an estimated five million people were forced to flee their homes and the region where they lived. On the occasion of this trip, there has been speculation that the Pope might make a stopover in South Sudan, a young country also marked by war. The images of Pope Francis kissing the feet of political rivals in Rome shocked the world, and certainly the capital, Juba. It would be a high-risk stop, although nothing can be ruled out with this Pope.
In Kenya, rosary and Way of the Cross
As noted, this Pope's first trip to Africa was to the east of the continent: Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic.
Let us begin with Kenya. In his meeting with young Kenyans in Kasarani (Nairobi) we discovered something we did not know about Pope Francis. He wanted to tell us a very personal confidence: What does the Pope carry in his pocket? First of all, the Holy Father carries a rosary. "To pray." he said. Second, the Pontiff shows "a thing that seems strange" and holds up a small square object saying: "This is the story of God's failure, it's a Way of the Cross, a little Way of the Cross.". Pope Francis opened the square object which was a small book, pointing to the images inside. "It is how Jesus was suffering from the time he was condemned to death until he was buried."he said.
"With these two things I get by as best I can, but thanks to these two things I don't lose hope."he concluded. It seems that this Via Crucis was given to him by a South American bishop, now deceased, as a sign of his filial union with the Bishop of Rome.
Martyrs in Uganda
The visit to the Shrine of the Martyrs of Namugongo, the center of Catholicism in Uganda, marked the Pope's trip. There he also referred to peace: "The witness of the martyrs our, to all who have known their story, then and today, that worldly pleasures and earthly power give neither joy nor lasting peace. Rather, fidelity to God, honesty and integrity of life, as well as genuine concern for the good of others, lead to that peace which the world cannot offer."
In this place, where Catholic and Anglican martyrs are venerated, the Pope showed with concrete gestures his closeness in prayer to all Ugandans.
Central African Republic: Forgiveness
The visit to the Central African Republic was not confirmed until the last moment, since there was a real security problem due to the conflict between Muslim and Christian groups in a large part of the country. The cathedral of Bangui, capital of the Republic, became for one day the center of Christianity.
Pope Francis wanted to open the first holy door of the Holy Year of Mercy precisely where mercy and forgiveness may not reign.
The Holy Father began the ceremony with this meaningful prayer: "Bangui today becomes the spiritual capital of the world. The Holy Year of Mercy comes early to this land. A land that for years has been suffering from war, hatred, misunderstanding, lack of peace. Let us ask for peace for Bangui, for the whole of the Central African Republic, for all the countries suffering from war, let us ask for peace"..
Egypt: ecumenism and martyrs
On his trip to Egypt, Pope Francis met with Pope Tawadros II, Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, and delivered a speech in which he gave new impetus to ecumenical relations between Catholics and Coptic Orthodox: "We are called to bear witness together to Jesus, to take our faith to the world.". Francis referred in particular to charity and the martyrdom suffered by Christians in many parts of the world as the main paths for ecumenical dialogue.
He also recalled the memory of Christians who to this day continue to shed their blood for their faith in Egypt. "Even recently, unfortunately, the innocent blood of defenseless faithful has been cruelly shed: their innocent blood unites us." highlighted.
Authentic dialogue in Morocco
On his third trip, a few months ago, the Holy Father held a meeting with the Moroccan people, the authorities, civil society and the diplomatic corps, on the esplanade of the Hassan Mosque in Rabat. The Pope stressed that "To participate in the construction of an open, pluralistic and supportive society, it is essential to develop and constantly and unwaveringly adopt the culture of dialogue as the path to follow; collaboration as a way forward; reciprocal knowledge as a method and criterion".
In the same vein, the pontiff encouraged "an authentic dialogue". in order to "not to underestimate the importance of the religious factor in building bridges between men".. "In respecting our differences, faith in God leads us to recognize the eminent dignity of every human being, as well as his inalienable rights.".