Pope speaks of visit to Africa, praises missionaries “who burn their lives to proclaim Jesus Christ,” encourages young people
VATICAN CITY — Two days after his return from Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic, Pope Francis dedicated his Wednesday general audience to his recent apostolic visit, telling pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square: “Africa is beautiful!”
Highlights from Africa
In an official English summary of the Pope’s address, he talked about the highlights of his visit:
In Kenya, a country blessed with great human and natural resources, I spoke of the worldwide challenge of protecting the environment and creating equitable, inclusive and sustainable models of development, and the need to form our young in the ways of peace and fraternity. In Uganda, the land of the Martyrs, I encouraged the Christian community to persevere in its witness of faith and charity, and thus to be a leaven of hope for society as a whole. In the Central African Republic, a country experiencing internal conflicts and great suffering, I opened the first Holy Door of the Jubilee of Mercy as a sign of hope and strength for its people and for all our brothers and sisters in Africa. I ask you to join me in commending them and all their aspirations to Jesus, our peace, who is himself the door which opens wide to the merciful love of our heavenly Father.
Special Message to Missionaries and Young People
Reflecting on the final Mass of his visit — celebrated at Barthélémy Boganda Stadium in the Central African Republic — Pope Francis launched into lengthy off-the-cuff remarks, in which he marveled at the number of young people in Africa, praised the many missionaries who have given their lives on the African continent to proclaim Jesus Christ, and delivered a special message to young people across the world.
Here below is a translation of the pope’s unscripted remarks:
That final Mass was marvelous. It was full of young people, a stadium full of young people. More than half of the people of the Central African Republic are minors, they are less than 18 years old: it’s a promise for going forward. I would like to say a word about missionaries: Men and women who left everything, their homeland, when they were young, and they went there for a life of so, so much work, sometimes sleeping on the ground. An entire life. There was a moment in Bangui when I met a religious sister. She was Italian. You could see she was older. “How old are you?” I asked her. “Eighty-one,” she said. “Oh, not too old, just two years older than me. Not too old.” And she was with a little girl. And the little girl, in Italian, was calling the Sister “nonna” [grandma]. Eighty-one years old, and she’d been there since the age of 23 or 24. Her entire life. And there were so many like her. “But I’m not really from here. I’m from a neighboring country,” she told me, “from Congo. I came in a canoe with this little girl.” This is what the missionaries are like: courageous. “And what do you do, Sister?,” I asked her. “I’m a nurse, and then I studied and became an obstetrician, and I’ve delivered 3,280 babies,” she told me. An entire life, for life, for the life of others. And there are so, so many like this sister — so many sisters, so many priests, so many religious — who burn their lives to proclaim Jesus Christ. It’s beautiful to see this. It’s beautiful. I would like to say a word to young people. There are so few here because having a baby seems like a luxury here in Europe: 0 percent birthrates, 1 percent birthrates. I address the young people: Think about what to do with your life. Think of this sister, and the many like her, who gave their lives — and many died there. Being a missionary isn’t about proselytism. This sister was telling me that the Muslim women go to them because they know the sisters are nurses, they are good and take good care of them. They don’t do catechism to convert them. Bearing witness. Then, for those who want it, they have catechism. But bearing witness: this is the great and heroic missionary character of the Church. To proclaim Jesus Christ with one’s own life. I address myself the young people. Think. What do you want to do with your life? It’s time to think about it, and ask the Lord to enable you hear his will. But please don’t exclude this possibility of becoming a missionary to bring love, humanity and the faith to other countries. Not for proselytism: no. That’s what those who are looking for something else do. Faith is preached first through witness and then in words. Slowly.
Pope Francis concluded his general audience address with the mottos of his three-nation visits, saying: “Let us together praise the Lord for this pilgrimage to the land of Africa, and let us allow ourselves to be guided by its key-words: “Stand strong in faith, do not be afraid,”; “You will be my witnesses”; “Cross over to another shore.”
Diane Montagnais Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.