The catechesis of Wednesday 2 december in the general audience was dedicated to the Holy Father’s apostolic trip to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic from 25 to 30 November. “How beautiful Africa is!” he said, before explaining the details of the trip to the thousands of faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square.
The first country he visited, Kenya, “is a country that represents very well the global challenge of our time: protecting creation while reforming the model of development, so that it may be equitable, inclusive and sustainable”, he said. “All this is reflected in Nairobi, the largest city in East Africa, where wealth and poverty coexist. But this is a scandal! Not only in Africa: even here, everywhere. The coexistence of wealth and poverty is a scandal, it brings shame upon humanity”.
The Pope recalled that on many the occasions he encouraged Kenyans to cherish the great wealth of their country: their natural and spiritual wealth, made up of the resources of the land, the new generations and the values that form the wisdom of the people. In this context, so dramatically relevant today, I had the joy of bringing the Jesus’ Word of hope: be firm in faith, do not be afraid. This was the motto of the visit. A word that is lived every day by many humble and simple people, with noble dignity; a word that was demonstrated tragically and heroically by the young people of the University of Garissa, killed on 2 April because they were Christians. Their blood is the seed of peace and fraternity for Kenya, for Africa, and for the whole world”.
In Uganda, the second country, the fiftieth anniversary of the canonisation of the nation’s martyrs by Blessed Paul VI set the tone for the visit. “For this, the motto was, ‘You will be my witnesses’. … The entire visit to Uganda took place in the fervour of witness animated by the Holy Spirit. Witness in the explicit sense of the service of catechists … the witness of charity … that involves many communities and associations in service to the poorest, the disabled, and the sick. There was witness of the young who, in spite of difficulties, safeguard the gift of hope and seek to live according to the Gospel and not according to the world, thus going against the grain. There was the witness of the priests and consecrated persons who day by day renew their total ‘yes’ to Christ and devote themselves with joy to the service of God’s holy people. … All this multiform witness, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is a leaven for all society, as is shown by the effective work carried out in Uganda in the battle against AIDS and in the welcome to refugees”.
The third stage in the Pope’s trip was the Central African Republic, the geographical heart of the continent, the heart of Africa. “This visit was in reality the first in my intentions, as it is a country that is trying to come out of a very difficult period, of violent conflicts and great suffering among the population. For this reason I wanted to open there, in Bangui, a week ahead of time, the Holy Door of the Jubilee of Mercy, as a sign of faith and hope for the people, and symbolically for all the African peoples who are most in need of redemption and consolation.”
Christ’s invitation to His disciples – to go over to the other side – was the theme of this leg of the journey. “Passing to the other side, in the civil sense, means leaving behind war, divisions and poverty, and choosing peace, reconciliation, development. But this presupposes a ‘passage’ that takes place in the conscience, in the attitudes and intentions of the people. And at this level, the contribution of religious communities is decisive. For this reason I met with the Evangelical and the Muslim communities, sharing in prayer and commitment to peace. … And finally, in the final Mass in the Bangui stadium … we renewed our commitment to following Jesus, our hope, our peace, the face of Divine Mercy. This final Mass was marvellous: it was full of young people, a stadium full of the young! Half the population of the Central African Republic is less than eighteen year old; a promise for the future”.
The Pope also spoke about missionaries, “the men and women who left their homeland, when they were young, leading a life of work, at times sleeping on the ground”. Francis mentioned that when he was in Bangui he met an Italian religious sister aged 81, who had been in Africa since she was 24, and had come to Bangui from her home in nearby Congo by canoe, accompanied by a child. “This is how missionaries are: brave”, he said. She was a nurse who then became a midwife, and had delivered 3,280 babies. “All a life, spent for life, for the life of others. And there are many more like her, many: nuns, priests, men and women religious who spend their life proclaiming Jesus.”
“I would like to say a word to the young”, he concluded. “Think about what you do with your lives. Think about that religious sister and the many others like her, who have given their lives, and so many others like her have died there. Being a missionary is not about proselytism: she told me that Muslim women came to her because they knew that religious sisters were good nurses who cure well, without giving catechesis to convert them! Bearing witness: then offering catechesis to those who want it. Witness is the great heroic missionary act of the Church. Announcing Jesus Christ with your own life. I ask the young: think about what you want to do with your life. It is the moment to think and ask the Lord to let you hear His will. But do not exclude, please, this possibility of becoming a missionary, to take love, humanity and faith to other countries. Not to proselytise: no. Those who do that are seeking something else. Faith is preached first in witness and then in words. Slowly”.