In the past days, I undertook my first Apostolic Visit to Africa. Africa is beautiful! I thank the Lord for this great gift of His, which enabled me to visit three countries: first Kenya, then Uganda and finally the Central African Republic. I express again my gratitude to the civil authorities and to bishops of these nations for having received me, and I thank all those who collaborated in so many ways. I send you my heartfelt thank you!
Kenya is a country that represents well the global challenge of our time: to protect Creation by reforming the development model, so that it is fair, inclusive and sustainable. All this finds confirmation in Nairobi, the largest city of East Africa: [It also finds confirmation] here and everywhere. The coexistence between wealth and misery is a scandal; it is an embarrassment for humanity. In Nairobi, in fact, there is the headquarters of the United Nations Office for the Environment, which I visited. In Kenya, I met the authorities and diplomats, and also the inhabitants of a populous district. I met with leaders of the different Christian denominations and of other religions, priests and consecrated persons, and also with young people. So many young people! In every occasion I encouraged them to treasure the great richness of the country: natural and spiritual richness, constituted by resources of the earth, by the new generations and by the values that make up the wisdom of the people. In this context, so dramatically important today, I had the joy of bringing Jesus’ word of hope: “Be strong in the faith, be not afraid.” This was the motto of the visit. A word that is lived every day by so many humble and simple persons, with noble dignity; a word witnessed tragically and heroically by the young people of the University of Garissa, killed last April 2nd because they were Christians. Their blood is the seed of peace and fraternity for Kenya, for Africa and for the whole world.
Then, in Uganda my visit happened in the sign of the martyrs of that country, 50 years after their historic canonization by Blessed Paul VI. Therefore, the motto was: “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). A motto that presupposes the immediately preceding words: “You will have the strength of the Holy Spirit,” because it is the Spirit that animates the heart and hands of missionary disciples. And the whole visit in Uganda unfolded in the fervor of the witness animated by the Holy Spirit. Witness, in an explicit sense, is the service of catechists, whom I thanked and encouraged in their commitment, which often involves their families, too. A witness of charity, which touched me in the House of Nalukilongo, but which many communities and associations give, too, as they serve the poorest, disabled and sick. The witness of young people who, despite the difficulties, guard the gift of hope and seek to live according to the Gospel, not according to the world, but going against the current. Witnesses are the priests, the consecrated men and women who renew day after day their total “yes” to Christ and dedicate themselves joyfully to the service of the Holy People of God. And there is another group of witnesses, but I will speak about them later. All this manifold witness, animated by the Holy Spirit Himself, is leaven for the whole society, as the effective work carried out in Uganda demonstrates in the fight against AIDS and the reception of refugees.
The third stage of the trip was in the Central African Republic, in the geographic heart of the Continent; it is, in fact, the heart of Africa. This visit was truly my first intention, because that country is attempting to come out of a very difficult period of violent conflicts and much suffering in the population. Therefore, I wished to open precisely there, at Bangui, a week ahead of time, the first Holy Door of the Jubilee of Mercy, as a sign of faith and hope for those people, and, symbolically, for all the African populations, most in need of liberation and comfort. Jesus’ invitation to the disciples: “Let us go across to the other side” (Luke 8:22) was the motto for Central Africa. “To go to the other side” means, in the civil sense, to leave behind war, divisions, and misery and to choose peace, reconciliation and development. However, this presupposes a “passage” that happens in the consciences, in the attitudes and in the intentions of persons. And, decisive at this level is the contribution of the religious communities. Therefore, I met with the Evangelical and Muslim Communities, sharing prayer and the commitment to peace. With priests and consecrated persons, but also with young people, we shared the joy of feeling that the Risen Lord is with us ‘in the boat,’ and it is He who guides it to the other side. And finally, in the last Mass at the Bangui Stadium, on the feast of the Apostle Andrew, we renewed our commitment to follow Jesus, our hope, our peace, and Face of Divine Mercy. That last Mass was wonderful: it was full of young people, a stadium of young people! However, more than half of the population of the Central African Republic are minors. They are less than 18 years old: a promise to go forward!
I would like to say a word about the missionaries. Men and women who have left their homeland, everything … They went there as youths, leading a life of so much, so much work, sometimes sleeping on the ground. At a certain moment, I met a Sister at Bangui who was Italian. One could see she was elderly: “How old are you?” I asked. “81” – “But not so much, two [years] older than me.” This sister was there since she was 23-24 years old: her whole life! And, like her, so many others. She was with a little girl. And the girl said to her in Italian: “Grandmother.” And the sister said to me: “But I, in fact, am not from here, but from the neighboring country, Congo, but I came in a canoe with this girl.” So the missionaries are courageous. “And what do you do, Sister?” “I am a nurse, but then I studied a bit here and became an obstetrician and I made 3,280 children be born,” she said to me. A whole life for life, for the life of others. And there are so many, so many like this sister: so many sisters, so many priests, so many religious who consume their life to proclaim Jesus Christ. It’s beautiful to see this; it’s beautiful.
I would like to say a word to young people. But, there are few, because birth seems to be a luxury in Europe: zero birth rate, 1% birth rate. But I address young people: think what you are doing with your life. Think of this sister and so many like her, who have given their life, and so many have died there. Missionary work is not to engage in proselyticism: this sister said to me that Muslim women go to them because they know that the sisters are good nurses and that they look after one well, and they do not engage in catechesis to convert them! They give witness then, they catechize anyone who so wishes. But witness: this is the great heroic missionary work of the Church. To proclaim Jesus Christ with one’s life! I turn to young people: think of what you want to do with your life. It is the moment to think and to ask the Lord to make you hear His will. However, please don’t exclude this possibility of becoming a missionary, to bring love, humanity and faith to other countries. Do not engage in proselytism: no. Those who seek something else do so. The faith is preached first with witness and then with the word, slowly.
Let us praise the Lord together for this pilgrimage in the land of Africa and let us allow ourselves to be guided by his key-words: “Be strong in the faith, be not afraid”; “You will be my witnesses”; Let us go across to the other side.”
I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, including those from England, Australia, Korea and the United States of America. My special greeting goes to the group “Up with People” for sharing with us their music. Upon you and your families I invoke the Lord’s blessings of joy and peace. God bless you all!
I give a cordial welcome to the Italian-speaking pilgrims! I greet the International Union of General Superiors, which is starting the Migranti Sicilia Project; the personnel of the Government’s Commissioner for the coordination of the anti-racket and anti-usury initiatives; the “Robert Schuman” European Institute of Cultural Integration and the Long Live the People Association on the 50th anniversary of its foundation.
I greet the Confraternity of the Sacred Stigmata of Saint Francis of Macerata; the youngsters of the Institute of Minors of Casal del Marmo and of the “Borgo Amigo” Community; the faithful of Bibbiano and the “Integration” Social Cooperative of Casoria.
Last Sunday we began the Season of Advent. I exhort all to live this time of preparation for the birth of Jesus, face of the merciful Father, in the extraordinary context of the Jubilee, with a spirit of charity, with greater attention to those in need, and with moments of personal and community prayer.
I greet young people, the sick and newlyweds. May the God of peace stimulate you, young people, to be promoters of dialogue and understanding; may He help you, dear sick, to look at the Cross to learn to face suffering with serenity; and may He foster in you, dear newlyweds, the growth of peace and love in your new family.