By Paschal Norbert
NAIROBI, MARCH 14, 2023 (CISA)– On March 13, 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected to the See of Peter. His election as the Supreme Pontiff was a first. He became the first Jesuit pope, the first native of Latin America (Argentina) and the first to choose the name ‘Francis’ in modern times after the resignation of his predecessor the late Pope Benedict XVI.
10 years have since passed. His election to the papacy brought hope to the African Church where he was seen as an outsider who had broken the glass ceiling and a reformist.
“He spoke simply and powerfully. He eschewed the typical trappings of papal luxury. He was seen as an outsider and a natural reformer. He stirred some trepidation among conservatives, but not enough to override the global adulation. “The People’s Pope,” Time magazine called him, naming him person of the year in 2013,” The Washington Post describes the 86-year-old pontiff.
In November 2015, Pope Francis made his inaugural apostolic journey to Africa with a six-day visit to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic (CAR). His visits have always been viewed as vital to fostering peace, reconciliation and interfaith dialogue in most of Africa’s troubled nations.
Kenya: November 2015
His visit to Kenya was from November 25 to 27, 2015. He focused on the importance of the youth and the environment, addressing poverty and inequality, corruption, reconciliation and peace.
In his inaugural trip to Africa, he made a passionate appeal against corruption, describing it as a “path to death”.
Uganda: November 2015
On November 28, 2015, Pope Francis travelled to Uganda where he celebrated Mass with an estimated crowd of two million people. In his homily, he urged the people to follow the zeal of the Uganda Martyrs in their mission by “taking care of the elderly, the poor, the widowed and the abandoned
Central African Republic: November 2015
This was the most anticipated visit of the pontiff. His two-day visit to the Central African Republic (CAR) from November 29 to 30, 2015, was regarded as the biggest security risk the pope had taken in his papacy. The country was still suffering from the consequences of inter-ethnic violence.
His message focused on peace, social justice and dialogue with Islam. The pope made a symbolic gesture of visiting the besieged central mosque in Bangui and opened the “holy door” of the cathedral as a sign of reconciliation.
Egypt: April 2017
In November 2014, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the president of Egypt invited the pope to visit his country. As a “messenger of peace,” the pope visited the country from April 28 to 29, 2017. It was the first papal visit to Egypt in 20 years. He aimed to express his closeness with the largest Christian Community in the country who had been enduring terrorist attacks from Islamic State militants.
He attended a peace conference at Al Azhar University in Cairo and met with various religious leaders, including the Grand Imam of Al Azhar Sheikh Muhammad Ahmed al-Tayeb and Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Pope Tawadros II.
Pope Francis then held an ecumenical prayer meeting with the Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I at St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church, which was bombed by terrorists on December 11, 2016.
Morocco: March 2019
Upon the invite of Moroccan King Mohammed VI, Pope Francis arrived in Rabat on March 30, 2019. His visit was marked by calls for the respect of the rights of migrants, religious tolerance and freedom of conscience.
Morocco had become a destination for sub-Saharan African migrants seeking to reach Europe through Spain.
“The issue of migration will never be resolved by raising barriers, fomenting fear of others or denying assistance to those who legitimately aspire to a better life for themselves and their families,” the Pope said at the welcoming ceremony.
Christians are a minority in Morocco where 99 percent of the population is Muslim, with sub-Saharan Africans making up a large part of the country’s Catholic community.
Mozambique: September 2019
On March 27, 2019, the Holy See Press Office announced the pope would visit Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius in September of the same year.
On September 4, 2019, Pope Francis arrived in Mozambique. The country had been left devastated by political instability, a jihadist insurgency, poverty, cyclones and floods. He expressed solidarity with the people affected by Cyclones Idai and Kenneth and urged them to resist foreign interests whose goal is to drain their resources and damage the environment.
Madagascar: September 2019
On September 6, 2019, Pope Francis departed for Madagascar. In his to the country, he rallied the youth not to fall into “bitterness” or to lose hope, even when they lacked the “necessary minimum” to get by and when “educational opportunities were insufficient.”
Mauritius: September 2019
Pope Francis on September 9 concluded his 31st Apostolic visit to Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius with a meeting with government authorities, civil society leaders and the diplomatic corps in the presidential palace in Moka where he encouraged them to promote economic policies that are favourable to all people.
“Since its independence, your country has experienced a steady economic development that should certainly be a reason to rejoice, but also to be on guard. In the present context, it appears that economic growth does not always profit everyone and even sets aside – by certain of its mechanisms and processes – a certain number of people, particularly the young,” Pope Francis said.
“That is why I would like to encourage you to promote an economic policy focused on people and in a position to favour a better division of income, the creation of jobs and the integral promotion of the poor,” he noted.
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): January 2023
On November 1, 2022, the Holy See Press Office announced that Pope Francis will make the much-awaited Apostolic Journey to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from January 31 to February 3, 2023, and together with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Rt Rev Dr Iain Greenshields, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Ecumenical Pilgrimage of Peace to Juba, South Sudan, from February 3 to 5.
“Hands off the Democratic Republic of the Congo! Hands off Africa! Stop choking Africa: it is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered. May Africa be the protagonist of its own destiny! May the world acknowledge the catastrophic things that were done over the centuries to the detriment of the local peoples, and not forget this country and this continent. May Africa, the smile and hope of the world, count for more. May it be spoken of more frequently, and have greater weight and prestige among the nations!” the pope said as he spoke against the exploitation of Africa in a meeting with President Felix Tshisekedi, members of government, the diplomatic corps and civil authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo on January 31.
South Sudan: February 2023
“Our visit is a Pilgrimage of Peace. We come as servants – to listen to and amplify the cries of the South Sudanese people, who have suffered so much and continue to suffer because of conflict, devasting flooding, widespread famine and much more,” said Archbishop Justin Welby on January 29, 2023.
In South Sudan, Pope Francis while acknowledging challenges in evangelization in South Sudan implored bishops, priests, and male and female religious to be like St. Daniele Comboni who is revered for his immense contribution to the foundation and growth of the Church in South Sudan.
“In a very real way, they offered their lives for the sake of the Gospel. Their closeness to their brothers and sisters is a marvellous testimony that they bequeath to us, a legacy that invites us to carry forward their mission. Let us think of Saint Daniele Comboni, who with his missionary brothers carried out a great work of evangelization in this land. He used to say that a missionary must be ready to do anything for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. We need courageous and generous souls ready to suffer and die for Africa,” Pope Francis told members of the clergy in the just concluded February 3-5 ecumenical visit to South Sudan.