November 25, 2015 // Uncategorized

Papal trip to Africa

Pope says he was surprised by crowds, joy in Africa

By Cindy Wooden

Pope Francis gestures as he answers questions from journalists aboard his flight from Bangui, Central African Republic, to Rome Nov. 30. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM AFRICA (CNS) — Pope Francis told reporters he is well aware that God is a god of surprises, but he had not been prepared for what a surprise his first visit to Africa would be.

Obviously tired, but equally content, Pope Francis told reporters he prayed in a mosque in Bangui, Central African Republic, and rode around a Muslim neighborhood with the imam seated with him in the popemobile. Both were spontaneous initiatives of the pope Nov. 30, his last day in Africa.

Returning to Rome from Bangui later that day, the pope spent more than 60 minutes with reporters in the back of his plane, responding to their questions.

“The crowds, the joy, the ability to celebrate even with an empty stomach” were impressions the pope said he would take home with him after his six-day trip to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic.

After two years of civil war, the pope told reporters, the people of the Central African Republic want “peace, reconciliation and forgiveness.”

“For years, they lived as brothers and sisters,” the pope said, and local Catholic, Muslim and evangelical Christian leaders are doing their best to help their people return to that situation of peace, coexistence and mutual respect.

Leaders of every religion must teach values, and that is what is happening in Central African Republic, Pope Francis said.

“One of the most-rare values today is that of brotherhood,” a value essential for peace, he said.

“Fundamentalism is a disease that is found in all religions. We Catholics have some,” he said. “I can say this because it is my church.”

“Religious fundamentalism isn’t religion, it’s idolatry,” he told the press. Ideas and false certainties take the place of faith, love of God and love of others.

“You cannot cancel a whole religion because there is a group or many groups of fundamentalists at certain moments of history,” the pope said.

As the pope ended his trip, global representatives were beginning the U.N. climate conference in Paris to discuss the possibility of forging a binding international agreement to reduce climate change.

Pope Francis said he was not sure what would happen at the conference, “but I can say this, it’s now or never.” Too little has been done over the past 10-15 years, he said, and “every year the situation gets worse.”

“We are on the verge of suicide, to put it strongly,” he said.

Given his visits to Uganda and Kenya, where new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths continue, Pope Francis was asked if he thought the church “should change its teaching” about the use of condoms.

Pope Francis responded that an ongoing question for Catholic moral theology is whether condoms in that case are an instrument to prevent death or a contraceptive — in which case they would violate church teaching on openness to life.

But, he said, the question is too narrow. People are dying because of a lack of clean water and adequate food. Once the world takes serious steps to solve those problems, then it would be “legitimate to ask whether it is licit” to use condoms to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS.

Pope Francis said that at various moments of his trip, he visited the very poor, people who lack everything and have suffered tremendously. He said he knew that a small percentage of people — “maybe 17 percent” — of the world’s population controls the vast majority of the world’s wealth — “and I think, ‘How can these people not be aware?’ It’s such suffering.”

To say the world’s economy has put profits and not people at the center and to denounce “the idolatry of the god money,” he said, “is not communism. It’s the truth.”

The pope also was asked about the Vatican trial underway in connection with the leak and publication of confidential documents related to Vatican finances.

“I haven’t lost any sleep” over the leaks and the arrest of a monsignor, his assistant, a woman who served on a former Vatican commission and the two authors who wrote books allegedly based on the material, Pope Francis said.

However, he said, he had hoped the trial would be over before the opening Dec. 8 of the Year of Mercy, but he does not think that will be possible because the defendants’ lawyers need adequate time to defend their clients properly.

As for future trips, Pope Francis was not full of surprises. He said he plans to go to Mexico and visit cities where St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI never went. The trip is expected in late February.

Pope Francis said he has to go to Mexico City, “but if it wasn’t for Our Lady I wouldn’t.” So he will visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, then go to Chiapas, Morelia and, “almost for sure, on the way back to Rome, I will spend a day or part of a day in Ciudad Juarez,” on the Mexican-U.S. border.

At Bangui mosque and Mass, pope prays for ‘salam,’ peace

By Cindy Wooden

Pope Francis sits next to Imam Tidiani Moussa Naibi during a meeting with the Muslim community at the Koudoukou mosque in Bangui, Central African Republic, Nov. 30. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

BANGUI, Central African Republic (CNS) — Pope Francis ended his visit to the violence-torn Central African Republic with cries for peace and pleas for a mercy that seeks and grants forgiveness.

In a country where political and ethnic rivalries also have split the population along religious lines, Pope Francis began Nov. 30 with a visit to the Koudoukou mosque in Bangui.

After two years of civil war, much of the recurrent violence in the country involves the murder of a Christian or a Muslim, then retaliations from members of the other community. Most areas of Bangui are divided into Christian or Muslim neighborhoods with “buffer zones” between them patrolled by U.N. peacekeepers.

“God is peace, ‘salam,'” the pope said in his speech at the mosque, where armed U.N. peacekeepers monitored the crowd outside from each of the three minarets.

“Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters,” created by the same God, he said, and they must act like it.

“Together, we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself,” Pope Francis insisted.

“The recent events and acts of violence which have shaken your country were not grounded in properly religious motives,” he said, but some have used God’s name as an excuse for their actions, which “disfigures the face of God.”

Pope Francis prayed that the elections scheduled for Dec. 27 would be a symbol and victory of national unity rather than being seen as the victory of one particular faction.

“Make your country a welcoming home for all its children, regardless of their ethnic origin, political affiliation or religious confession,” the pope urged the people.

Tidiani Moussa Naibi, the imam of the mosque, assured the pope that Central African Christians and Muslims know that they are brothers and sisters. “Trouble mongers could delay the completion of a particular project of common interest or compromise for a time a particular activity, but never, ‘inshallah,’ (God willing) can they destroy the bonds of brotherhood that unite our communities so solidly.”

After the speeches, Pope Francis asked the imam to show him the mihrab, which indicates the direction of Mecca, the direction Muslims face when praying. The pope and imam stood in front of it for several moments of silence.

The Catholic archbishop of Bangui, the president of the country’s evangelical Christian alliance and another imam have been leading a very public campaign of education and cooperation to end the violence. The three were present at the mosque for the pope’s visit.

Afterward, the pope visited the camp for displaced people that has sprouted around the mosque, just as other camps have mushroomed around the city’s Catholic parishes.

To show just how special the visit was, Pope Francis personally opened the Holy Door at Bangui’s cathedral Nov. 29, nine days before the official opening of the Year of Mercy.

The last event on the pope’s schedule was a Mass in a sports stadium, where he urged the Catholic community to participate in the Year of Mercy by moving forward courageously toward peace and reconciliation.

The country’s bishops chose “Cross to the Other Side” as the theme for the pope’s visit, and he told people in the stadium that even though the elections are only four weeks away, they are still only in midstream in their journey to the side of peace.

All Christians, he said, need to break the habits of sin and division, which are “ever ready to rise up again at the prompting of the devil. How often this happens in our world and in these times of conflict, hate and war! How easy it is to be led into selfishness, distrust, violence, destructiveness, vengeance, indifference to and exploitation of those who are most vulnerable.”

Pope Francis urged the country’s Catholics to hold fast to their faith, sharing it with all they meet through words and, especially, gestures of care, peace and reconciliation.

At the end of Mass, the pope gave a special greeting “of joy and fraternity” to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, wishing him — “from the heart of Africa” — a happy feast of St. Andrew.

“I ask the Lord to bless our sister churches,” he said.

The evening before, after celebrating Mass with priests, religious and catechists, the pope joined the young people who had watched the liturgy from outside the cathedral. They were holding a prayer vigil into the night, with special permission to stay outside the cathedral beyond the 8 p.m. curfew in the violence-torn city.

The centerpiece of the event, though, was the sacrament of confession, which Pope Francis personally administered to five youths.

He urged the young people to pray often, to forgive those who hurt them and to be courageous enough to stay in their country and work for peace.

Pope arrives in violence-torn Central African Republic preaching peace

By Cindy Wooden

Girls wait for Pope Francis to arrive for a visit to a refugee camp in Bangui, Central African Republic, Nov. 29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

BANGUI, Central African Republic (CNS) — Despite serious security concerns for Pope Francis and for those who would come to see him, the pope landed in Central African Republic Nov. 29 saying he came as “a pilgrim of peace.”

“Unity in diversity is a constant challenge, one which demands creativity, generosity, self-sacrifice and respect for others,” he said, visiting the country where political and ethnic rivalries also have split people along religious lines.

A brief airport arrival ceremony was held amid tight security provided by the Central Africans, France, the United Nations, U.N. peacekeepers, extra Vatican police and even some U.S. security officers dressed in dark suits.

Pope Francis and his entourage followed Catherine Samba-Panza, the country’s interim president, in a convoy to the presidential palace about five miles away.

The highway was lined with tens of thousands of people, many of whom waved palm or other tree branches. In addition to armed forces doing crowd control, armored U.N. vehicles were parked at almost every intersection.

Samba-Panza was appointed in January 2014 to lead the country out of the civil war that began in 2013 and toward democratic elections. The vote had been scheduled for October, but a new outbreak of violence between predominantly Muslim factions and predominantly Christian factions forced a postponement until Dec. 27.

Speaking at the presidential palace, Pope Francis told Samba-Panza and civic leaders that it was his deep hope that the vote would “enable the country to embark serenely on (a) new chapter of its history.”

As he often does when trying to encourage a nation’s leaders and people, Pope Francis looked to the nation’s ideals — “unity, dignity and labor” — telling the people that they and all their neighbors share the same hope to see those ideals realized.

Restoring harmony and forging unity, he told the president and civic leaders, will require “avoiding the temptation to fear others, the unfamiliar and what is not part of our ethnic group, our political views or our religious confession.”

“Unity, on the contrary, calls for creating and promoting a synthesis of the richness which each person has to offer,” he said.

Access to education, health care, adequate nutrition and decent housing must be provided to all, Pope Francis said. “In effect, our human dignity is expressed by our working for the dignity of our fellow man.”

“Those who have the means to enjoy a decent life, rather than being concerned with privileges,” he said, “must seek to help those poorer than themselves.”

The Central African Republic, rich in natural resources, can and must do more to develop job opportunities, but must work with local and international organizations and businesses to ensure that the use of natural resources does not become an abuse of them.

The country is located in the fertile Congo Basin, known as the “green heart of Africa,” and decisions about resource exploitation can “affect the entire planet,” the pope said.

Pope Francis also thanked all of the international organizations and governments helping the Central Africans move toward peace. “I heartily encourage them to continue along the path of solidarity in the hope that their commitment, together with the activity of the Central African authorities, will help the country to advance, especially in the areas of reconciliation, disarmament, peacekeeping, health care and the cultivation of a sound administration at all levels.”

After all the uncertainty because of the security situation, the fact that the pope arrived is “a blessing from heaven,” Samba-Panza said. It is “a victory of faith over fear and disbelief and a victory of the compassion and solidarity of the universal church.”

The president thanked the pope for giving her people a “lesson of courage and determination” by visiting despite the recent violence.

The country, which was ruled by a succession of military dictators from 1962 to 1993, also has suffered from repeated coups. In the process, Samba-Panza said, “Our country has not been spared from devastating winds that sowed disunity and distrust” between ethnic and religious groups.

Samba-Panza — a Catholic and longtime politician — publicly addressed the pope just a few hours before he was to open the local celebration of the Year of Mercy by opening the Holy Door at Bangui’s cathedral.

“On behalf of the ruling class of this country but also on behalf of all those who contributed in any way whatsoever to his descent into hell,” she told the pope, “I confess all the harm that has been done here over the course of history and I beg forgiveness from the bottom of my heart.”

“Abominations have been committed in the name of religion by people who call themselves believers,” she said. “But how can one be a believer and destroy places of worship, kill one’s neighbor, rape, destroy another’s property?”

She prayed the pope would exorcize “the demons of division, hatred and self-destruction.”

After the meeting, Pope Francis went three miles by popemobile to a refugee camp set up around a Catholic parish. Some 3,300 people live there and most are women and children.

Little children had lined up holding torn pieces of light fabric with words written on them: peace, love, friendship, equality.

The pope told the crowd he had read the signs. “We work and pray and do everything possible for peace, but without love, without friendship, tolerance, forgiveness, peace isn’t possible.”

“May you all live in peace not matter what your ethnicity, religion, social status,” the pope said.


Honor your martyrs by putting faith into action, pope tells Ugandans

By Cindy Wooden

Anglican Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of Uganda offers an explanation to Pope Francis at the Anglican martyrs’ shrine at Namugongo in Kampala, Uganda Nov. 28. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

KAMPALA, Uganda (CNS) — As Pope Francis encouraged Ugandan Christians to draw inspiration from the 19th-century Ugandan Martyrs, he carried with him graphic images of the horrors the 45 Anglican and Catholic martyrs endured.

The pope made an early morning visit Nov. 28 to the Anglican shrine and museum located on the site where many of the martyrs died. The main exhibit features realistic statues of men being tortured, bound and thrown on a fire.

Pope Francis had a look of shock on his face as Anglican Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of Uganda explained how the martyrs were executed on the orders of King Mwanga II in the late 1800s.

Afterward, the pope celebrated a Mass outside the nearby Catholic shrine to the martyrs. The shrine has an artificial lake, and Ugandan security patrolled it in a little rubber boat throughout the liturgy.

In his homily, Pope Francis honored all the martyrs, noting that they shared the same faith in Jesus and they offer a witness to “the ecumenism of blood.”

Honoring the martyrs is not something to be done only on their feast day, he said, but must be done daily through upright behavior and loving care for others in the family, the neighborhood, at work and in society.

Keeping one’s eyes focused on God, he said, “does not diminish our concern for this world, as if we only look to the life to come. Instead, it gives purpose to our lives in this world and helps us to reach out to those in need, to cooperate with others for the common good and to build a more just society which promotes human dignity, defends God’s gift of life and protects the wonders of nature, his creation and our common home.”

Heartbreaking modern challenges to faith led Pope Francis to abandon the text he had prepared for an afternoon meeting with Ugandan youths. Instead, he tried to respond directly to the young woman and young man who addressed him, although the effort was plagued by technical problems with the microphone.

Winnie Nansumba, 24, told the pope she was born HIV-positive and, “as a young woman, I always found it hard to fall in love because I thought I didn’t have a right to love and be loved.”

In the end, she said, she decided to use her story to teach other youths about HIV and AIDS, particularly that “we must respect our life and that of others,” changing behavior to prevent the spread of the disease.

“Take charge of your life and know your (HIV) status,” she told the estimated 150,000 youths gathered at the Kololo airstrip to see the pope. “AIDS is real, but it can be prevented and managed.”

More than 7 percent of Ugandan adults are HIV-positive and tens of thousands continue to be infected each year. According to U.N. AIDS, because of sexual violence and lack of access to education, young women are particularly in danger in Uganda. U.N. figures estimate that 4.2 percent of Ugandan women aged 15-24 are HIV-positive while 2.4 percent of men that age are.

Pope Francis did not speak specifically about AIDS or its prevention, but he spoke instead about overcoming despair and depression and fighting for one’s life.

He also went on at length about courage, referring both to Nansumba and to Emmanuel Odokonyero, who had talked about being kidnapped by the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army in 2003, tortured and escaping after three months.

From the late 1980s and for more than 20 years, the Lord’s Resistance Army terrorized Uganda, kidnapping thousands of children and forcing hundreds of thousands of people to seek safety in camps for displaced persons.

“In your veins, the blood of martyrs flows,” the pope told the two youths. “That is why your faith is so strong.”

The pope urged the young people to find positive challenges in the negative events of their lives, to trust Jesus to transform their suffering into joy and to turn to Mary when experiencing pain, just like a child runs to his or her mother after falling and getting hurt.

In the early evening, the pope visited the House of Charity in Kampala’s Nalukolongo neighborhood; the Good Shepherd Sisters run a home there for 102 elderly and people with severe disabilities. The residents range in age from 11 years to 107 years, said Bishop Robert Muhiirwa of Fort Portal, chair of the Ugandan bishops’ health commission.

“Our families need to become ever more evident signs of God’s patient and merciful love, not only for our children and elders, but for all those in need,” the pope said. “Our parishes must not close their doors or their ears to the cry of the poor. This is the royal road of Christian discipleship.”

Meeting with Uganda’s priests, religious and seminarians 11 hours after his day had begun, Pope Francis spoke about the importance of remembering the martyrs by witnessing to the faith like they did, by remaining faithful to their vocations and by praying.

The pope publicly thanked the Good Shepherd Sisters for the “example of fidelity” they showed him at the House of Charity, “fidelity to the poor, the infirm and the disabled because Christ is there.”

Ugandan soil, “bathed by the blood of martyrs,” always will need new witnesses to faith, he told the priests and religious.


Ugandans give pope exuberant welcome as he urges unity

By Cindy Wooden

Pope Francis greets people as he arrives with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni at the State House in Entebbe, Uganda, Nov. 27. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

KAMPALA, Uganda (CNS) — Witnessing to what is true, good and beautiful — even if that witness is motivated by different faiths — brings people together and strengthens a nation, Pope Francis said.

Arriving in Uganda from Kenya Nov. 27, Pope Francis was greeted by a number of dance troupes playing drums as well as traditional horns and stringed instruments. Many of the dancers wore rattles on their calves, and some of the men wore the skins of the spotted hyena around their waists.

While the pope fulfilled the protocol duty of reviewing the military troops, he could not pass by the dance troupes without thanking them, especially the children.

Pope Francis went from the airport to the State House in Entebbe, where he immediately drew people’s attention to the Ugandan Martyrs — 23 Anglicans and 22 Catholics — executed by King Mwanga II of Buganda between November 1885 and January 1887.

“They remind us of the importance that faith, moral rectitude and commitment to the common good have played and continue to play in the cultural economic and political life of this country,” the pope told President Yoweri Museveni, other government officials and members of the diplomatic corps.

The martyrs, he said, “also remind us that despite our different beliefs and convictions, all of us are called to seek the truth, to work for justice and reconciliation and to respect, protect and help one another as members of our one human family.”

On the third evening of his three-nation trip to Africa, Pope Francis said he wanted to draw attention to Africa as a whole, and not just to the continent’s problems. He praised Uganda particularly for welcoming refugees and allowing them to work.

“Our world, caught up in wars, violence and various forms of injustice is witnessing an unprecedented movement of peoples,” he said. “How we deal with them is a test of our humanity, our respect for human dignity and above all our solidarity with our brothers and sisters in need.”

As he did earlier in Kenya, the pope also urged African leaders to dedicate themselves to ensuring education and employment for their young people, the majority of the continent’s population.

Pope Francis said his prayer was that all Ugandans “will always prove worthy of the values which have shaped the soul of your nation.”

The exuberance of the dancers at the airport was only a tiny hint of the welcome Uganda had in store for the pope: Hundreds of thousands of people waited for hours along the entire 27-mile stretch of road leading from the State House to the Munyonyo neighborhood of Kampala.

Munyonyo is the place where King Mwanga condemned the martyrs to death. As the dark of night settled in outside a shrine run by the Conventual Franciscans, Pope Francis greeted hundreds of catechists holding candles.

He told the representatives of Uganda’s 14,000 catechists — many of whom administer remote communities that have no priest — that theirs is a holy work.

“Thank you for the sacrifices which you and your families make,” he told them. It is particularly beautiful that they teach children to pray and help parents raise their children in the faith.

To be effective, Pope Francis said, a catechist must be an example of love, faith and mercy and not just a good and eloquent teacher.

The pope told the catechists to be strong like the martyrs, “go forth without fear to every town and village in this country to spread the good seed of God’s word.”


Pope ends Kenya visit defending rights of poor, denouncing tribalism

By Cindy Wooden

Children wait for Pope Francis’ arrival outside a Catholic parish in the Kangemi slum on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya, Nov. 27. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) — The wealth of residents of the poorest neighborhoods ringing big cities around the world will never be quoted on the stock exchange, even though their wealth gives life and joy to millions of people, Pope Francis said.

The pope began his day Nov. 27 in Nairobi’s Kangemi neighborhood, usually referred to as a slum. It features tiny dwellings made of cinder block, tin or reclaimed boards. The homes are jumbled together with dirt roads and paths running between them.

Residents were thrilled not only that the pope would take time to visit them, but that the government fixed several of the roads, installed some street lights and unblocked some water pipes in preparation for the pope’s visit.

Exact figures vary, but between 55 percent and 65 percent of Nairobi’s population live in the slums. Many have no drinking water, electricity, sewage system or regular garbage collection.

Irish Mercy Sister Mary Killeen, who has ministered in Kenya for three decades, told Pope Francis that fires — especially from kerosene lamps and stoves — and floods are a danger. Evictions are frequent since the people do not own the land on which their shacks are built.

At a meeting in the Jesuit-run St. Joseph the Worker Church, Pamella Akwede, a resident, told the pope, “People in informal settlements live together as family, in unity and solidarity,” which is evident in the celebrations of births, weddings and funerals.

“Any resident of any informal settlement survives on less than a dollar a day,” she said, but fresh fruits are available and “one can get their stomach full on a cup of tea and doughnut” for the equivalent of 19 cents.

Most of the people in Kangemi and the other slums of Nairobi work in factories, Akwede said, but they do not earn enough to pay for rent in a better neighborhood.

Pope Francis told the people gathered in the church that he had an obligation to denounce the injustices that keep the slum dwellers living in such desperate circumstances, but he also urged the people to recognize the values they have and that the world needs: Solidarity, celebration, taking care to bury the dead, making more room at one’s simple table and taking in the sick all are characteristic of people in the world’s poorest neighborhoods.

Such values, he said, are “grounded in the fact that each human being is more important than the god of money. Thank you for reminding us that another type of culture is possible.”

While those values “are not quoted in the stock exchange,” Pope Francis said, they are the true “signs of good living.”

But the problems faced in the makeshift communities “are not a random combination of unrelated problems,” he said; they are “the consequence of new forms of colonialism,” which see African countries as “cogs on a gigantic wheel” and a storehouse of natural resources to plunder.

African nations, he said, “are frequently pressured to adopt policies typical of the culture of waste, like those aimed at lowering the birth rate.”

Pope Francis denounced the ridiculously high rent that absentee landlords charge for “utterly unfit housing” in the slum. He also insisted that governments have an obligation to ensure their citizens have “toilets, sewers, drains, refuse collection, electricity” and access to schools, hospitals and open space for recreation.

To a strong round of applause, the pope also insisted that access to drinking water be provided in the slums. “Access to safe, drinkable water is a basic and universal human right,” he said.

The pope gave special recognition to the women of Kangemi and the other informal settlements. They make heroic efforts not only to feed their children, but to protect them from violence, crime and addiction — all plagues common in the slums. The corrupt, he said, use young people “as cannon fodder for their ruthless business affairs.”

From Kangemi, Pope Francis went to Nairobi’s Kasarani Stadium for a meeting with the nation’s young people. The atmosphere was charged with excitement and infectious celebration; the Kenyan bishops started line dancing after the youths did. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his wife arrived, going to the head of the line, dancing as they went to their seats.

A young woman and young man asked Pope Francis questions and, as they spoke, the pope took notes. In the end, he set aside his prepared text and answered their questions, particularly regarding the problems of tribalism and corruption.

“Tribalism destroys a nation,” he said. “Tribalism is keeping your hands behind your back and holding in each hand a rock to throw at others.”

“The ear, the heart and the hand” are needed to overcome tribalism, the pope told the young people, including many who were dressed in the traditional costumes of the Masai and other ethnic groups.

People need to listen to each other, ask each other about their history and customs, open their hearts to one another and extend a hand in friendship.

He called his young questioners to the podium and took their hands. Then he asked the estimated 70,000 young people who filled the stadium to hold hands as well. “We are all a nation,” he had them say. “No to tribalism.”

As for corruption, the pope compared it to sugar: It tastes good at first and it’s easy to get, but it also can make people sick.

All institutions have people tempted by corruption, the pope said, “including the Vatican.”

He urged the young people to have nothing to do with cheating or corruption; “don’t develop a taste for it,” he said.


Choice is clear, pope says: Protect environment or destroy it

By Cindy Wooden

Pope Francis speaks during a visit to the United Nations Office in Nairobi, Kenya, Nov. 26. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) — The international community is facing a stark and serious choice, “either to improve or to destroy the environment,” Pope Francis said, referring to the Paris Climate Conference.

“It would be sad, and I dare say even catastrophic, were special interests to prevail over the common good,” the pope said Nov. 26 during a visit to the headquarters in Nairobi of the U.N. Environment Program and U.N. Habitat, an agency concerned with urban planning.

Under the auspices of the United Nations, the Paris conference Nov. 30-Dec. 11 has the aim of achieving a legally binding and universal agreement on measures to stem climate change and protect the environment.

Pope Francis spoke at length about the importance of the conference during his visit to the U.N. offices, and his top aides had a meeting the evening before with Kenya’s environment minister and other officials to discuss their hopes and strategies for the Paris meeting.

On his way into the meeting with U.N. officials and diplomats accredited to the two U.N. agencies, Pope Francis planted a tree.

While his speech contained ample quotes from his June encyclical on the environment, the pope also referred several times to the significance of planting trees and borrowed several lines from a speech he made in Bolivia in July to a variety of grass-roots movements advocating for justice for the poor.

In fact, just as in the encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” the pope insisted in Nairobi that there is a close connection between environmental destruction and unjust economic and political policies that penalize the poor.

“We are faced with a great political and economic obligation to rethink and correct the dysfunctions and distortions of the current model of development,” he said, especially because of their emphasis on exploiting natural resources, but not sharing the benefits with local communities.

Planting a tree, he said, is an “invitation to continue the battle against phenomena like deforestation and desertification,” as well as “an incentive to keep trusting, hoping and above all working in practice to reverse all those situations of injustice and deterioration which we currently experience.”

The Paris conference, the pope said, “represents an important stage in the process of developing a new energy system which depends on a minimal use of fossil fuels, aims at energy efficiency and makes use of energy sources with little or no carbon content.”

Pope Francis told those gathered at Nairobi’s U.N. offices that he hopes the Paris conference will result in a “global and ‘transformational’ agreement based on the principles of solidarity, justice, equality and participation; an agreement which targets three complex and interdependent goals: lessening the impact of climate change, fighting poverty and ensuring respect for human dignity.”

To achieve a comprehensive and fair agreement, he said, real dialogue is necessary among politicians, scientists, business leaders and representatives of civil society, including the poorest sectors of those societies.

Pope Francis insisted that human beings are capable of changing course, choosing what is good and making a fresh start. The key, he said, will be to put the economy and politics at the service of people, who are called to live in harmony with the rest of creation.

“Far from an idealistic utopia, this is a realistic prospect which makes the human person and human dignity the point of departure and the goal of everything,” he said.

A new respect for human dignity and for the environment are part of the same attitude of giving value to all that God made, he said.

Pope Francis called for “the adoption of a culture of care — care for oneself, care for others, care for the environment — in the place of a culture of waste, a throwaway culture where people use and discard themselves, others and the environment.”

The idea of a “throwaway culture” is not simply a strong figure of speech, he said, pointing to “new forms of slavery, human trafficking, forced labor, prostitution and trafficking in organs.”

“Many lives, many stories, many dreams have been shipwrecked in our day,” the pope said. “We cannot remain indifferent in the face of this. We have no right.”


Belief in God seen in respect, unity, service, pope says in Nairobi

By Cindy Wooden

Pope Francis arrives in procession to celebrate Mass on the campus of the University of Nairobi in Nairobi, Kenya, Nov. 26. At left is Cardinal John Njue, archbishop of Nairobi. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) — Respect, unity and service are the foundations of a strong family, a solid democracy and a healthy response to the gift of faith — any faith, Pope Francis told the people of Kenya.

Meeting ecumenical and interreligious leaders, celebrating a large outdoor Mass and greeting priests, religious and seminarians in Nairobi Nov. 26, Pope Francis insisted faith means serving one’s fellow human beings.

The pope’s day began early on the rainy morning with an intimate meeting with 40 representatives of Kenya’s Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Buddhist communities, as well as with a Masai elder and other leaders of communities that have maintained their traditional African beliefs.

During the meeting in the Vatican nunciature, Pope Francis remembered the terrorist attacks on Kenya’s Westgate Mall in 2013, Garissa University College in April and Mandera in July, and urged a common recognition that “the God who we seek to serve is a God of peace.” The Somali-based militant group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for all three attacks the pope mentioned.

“All too often, young people are being radicalized in the name of religion to sow discord and fear, and to tear at the very fabric of our societies,” the pope said. “How important it is that we be seen as prophets of peace, peacemakers who invite others to live in peace, harmony and mutual respect.”

Abdulghafur El-Busaidy, chairman of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, greeted the pope as “a revolutionary-minded man of God” on behalf of the country’s Muslims, who, he said, make up about 30 percent of the population.

“As people of one God and of this world,” he told the pope, “we must stand up and in unison clasp hands together in all the things that are essential for our collective progress as one humanity, one world irrespective of location, culture, language, race, ethnicity, status, politics … for we are citizens of the same world.”

Peace in the world is not possible without peace among religions, he said, citing the work of “the German philosopher Hans Kung,” a Swiss priest whose authority to teach as a Catholic professor in Germany was withdrawn by the Vatican.

The Muslim leader told Pope Francis and the other religious authorities, “There is so much to talk about,” but the pope’s schedule allotted only 45 minutes for the gathering. Still, El-Busaidy told Pope Francis and the others, “I wish you success in achieving the vision of a better world you have accepted for yourselves and for future generations.

Anglican Archbishop Eliud Wabukala thanked the pope for the Catholic Church’s efforts to preserve “the apostolic faith” and its commitment to defending marriage and family life “at a time when some of these principles are being called into question.”

The centrality of the family and the obligation to be missionaries in word and deed were at the heart of Pope Francis’ homily during a Mass celebrated with more than 200,000 people on the grounds of the University of Nairobi. Strong rains overnight and throughout the morning turned the campus lawns into a muddy mess, but that did little to dampen the people’s spirits as they sang, swayed, danced and ululated.

The health of a society depends on the health of its families, the pope said in his homily, which he read in Italian. Msgr. Mark Miles, an official of the Vatican Secretariat of State, alternated with Pope Francis, giving an English translation.

Welcoming children as a blessing and respecting the dignity of each human being should be the marks of Christian families, the pope said. “In obedience to God’s word, we are also called to resist practices which foster arrogance in men, hurt or demean women and threaten the life of innocent children.”

“We are called to respect and encourage one another, and to reach out to all those in need,” Pope Francis said.

The sacraments, he said, not only strengthen people’s faith, they are meant to change people’s hearts, making them more faithful disciples as seen in the care they show others.

As followers of Christ, the pope said, Christians are called to be “missionary disciples, men and women who radiate the truth, beauty and life-changing power of the Gospel. Men and women who are channels of God’s grace, who enable his mercy, kindness and truth to become the building blocks of a house that stands firm,” a home where people live in harmony as brothers and sisters.

In the afternoon, Pope Francis met with the priests, religious and seminarians of Kenya, a group that included dozens of missionaries, “even from Argentina,” said Missionary of Africa Father Felix J. Phiri, chairperson of the Religious Superiors’ Conference of Kenya.

The country, which has more than 13.8 million Catholics, is served by more than 5,300 religious women, close to 800 religious brothers, some 2,700 diocesan priests, just over 900 religious-order priests and four permanent deacons.

Welcomed with cheers and the ululations of hundreds of Kenyan sisters, Pope Francis set aside his prepared text and instead reflected on the importance of priests and religious recognizing that the Lord called them to serve and that serving is what their lives must be about.

Ambition, riches and prestige have no place in the life of a priest or religious, Pope Francis said. Anyone who does not think he or she can live a life of poverty, chastity and obedience should leave and start a family, he added.

“When we were called, we were not canonized,” the pope said. Each priest and religious continues to be a person in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness, a person who must devote time to prayer. Without prayer, he said, a person becomes as ugly as “a dried fig.”

Pope Francis said he could imagine that some of the priests and religious were thinking, “‘What a rude pope. He told us what to do, he told us off and did not even say thank you.’ So the last thing I want to say to you, the cherry on the cake, is to thank you for following Jesus, for every time you realize you are a sinner, for every caress you give someone in need.”

Arriving in Kenya, pope says tolerance, respect are keys to peace

By Cindy Wooden

Pope Francis smiles as he is welcomed by guests after landing at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, Nov. 25. (CNS photo/Dai Kurokawa, EPA)

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) — With security concerns looming over his visit, Pope Francis arrived in Kenya Nov. 25 urging tolerance and respect among people of different religions and different ethnic groups.

During the less than seven-hour flight, Pope Francis told reporters the only thing he was worried about were the mosquitoes, and after greeting each of the 74 reporters individually the pope took the microphone again and said, “Protect yourselves from the mosquitoes!”

Speaking to a small group of reporters as he made his way around the plane, the pope also confirmed he would visit four cities, including Ciudad Juarez on the U.S.-Mexican border, when he visits Mexico in February.

In his brief remarks to the whole group, the pope did not mention the security concerns or the travel advisories issued by many governments after the terrorist attacks Nov. 13 in Paris.

Pope Francis was greeted at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport by a small group of dancers, women ululating and President Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the nation’s first president, for whom the airport is named. After the brief arrival ceremony Pope Francis traveled past hundreds of offices and factories where employees came out and lined the road to greet him.

The formal welcoming ceremony took place at Kenya’s State House, where the pope met with the president, government and civic leaders and members of the diplomatic corps.

In his speech, the pope focused on the values needed to consolidate democracy in Kenya and throughout Africa, starting with building trust and cohesion among members of the different ethnic and religious groups on the continent.

“Experience shows that violence, conflict and terrorism feed on fear, mistrust and the despair born of poverty and frustration,” he said. “To the extent that our societies experience divisions — whether ethnic, religious or economic — all men and women of good will are called to work for reconciliation and peace, forgiveness and healing.”

Kenyatta told the pope that colonization left Africa with artificial borders dividing communities, which has created tensions, but war and violence on the continent also has been fueled by “our own selfish politicization of our ethnic and religious identities.”

As the U.N. Climate Conference was about to begin in Paris, Pope Francis also spoke of the traditional African value of safeguarding creation and of the need to find “responsible models of economic development” that will not destroy the earth and the future.

“Kenya has been blessed not only with immense beauty in its mountains, rivers and lakes, its forests, savannahs and semi-deserts, but also by an abundance of natural resources,” the pope said.

Kenyans recognize them as gifts of God and have a “culture of conservation,” which they are called to help others embrace as well, the pope said.

“The grave environmental crisis facing our world demands an ever greater sensitivity to the relationship between human beings and nature,” he said. “We have a responsibility to pass on the beauty of nature in its integrity to future generations, and an obligation to exercise a just stewardship of the gifts we have received.”

On a continent where the population is predominantly young, but unemployment among young adults is high, Pope Francis also urged the Kenyan government officials and representatives of other countries to recognize that the young, too, are a gift from God to be assisted with care.

“To protect them, to invest in them and to offer them a helping hand is the best way we can ensure a future worthy of the wisdom and spiritual values dear to their elders, values which are the very heart and soul of a people,” the pope said.

Knowing that he was speaking in front of the country’s political and economic leaders, Pope Francis reminded them that the Gospel insists that “from those to whom much has been given, much will be demanded.”

“Show genuine concern for the needs of the poor, the aspirations of the young and a just distribution of the natural and human resources with which the Creator has blessed your country,” he told them.

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