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Pope in Africa: in Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius “to sow hope”

The Pope will return to Africa for the fourth time from 4 to 10 September. The apostolic journey to Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius will take place exactly 50 years after the visit of Paul VI, the first pope to visit the continent

Pope Francis will make his fourth apostolic journey to the African continent from 4 to 10 September, 50 years since the first visit of a pope to Africa – Paul VI, who visited Uganda from 31 July to 2 August 1969. Francis will visit Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius and will be the fourth pontiff to visit Africa: from 1980 to 2000 John Paul II chose Africa as the destination of his apostolic journey 16 times for visits to 42 countries plus La Réunion, an overseas department of France. Some of these African nations were visited by Pope Wojtyla two or three times during his almost 27 years of pontificate. Benedict XVI was in Africa twice: in 2009 to visit Cameroon and Angola and then in 2011 to visit Benin. By next September Bergoglio will have made four pilgrimages to Africa, visiting eight nations: Kenya, Uganda, the Central African Republic, Egypt, Morocco, Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius.

SECAM’s 50th anniversary. 2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of SECAM, the Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar: it is likely that the Pope will refer to this event in his speeches while visiting the three Countries. “The African Church is confronted with an immense and original undertaking”, declared Paul VI 50 years ago: “like a “mother and teacher” she must approach all the sons of this land of the sun; she must offer them a traditional and modern interpretation of life; she must educate the people in the new forms of civil organization; while purifying and preserving the forms of family and community; she must give an educative impulse to your individual and social virtues: those of honesty, of sobriety, of loyalty; she must help develop every activity that promotes the public good, especially the schools and the assistance of the poor and sick; she must help Africa towards development, towards concord, towards peace.” These imperatives still preserve their topical relevance, while looking forward to Pope Francis’ message for this important anniversary. SECAM encompasses 40 member Episcopal Conferences, 6 regional Episcopal Conferences and 34 national or interregional ones.

“Hope, peace and reconciliation”, is the motto of the visit to Mozambique. “These words of the Holy Father have a great echo in the hearts of us all.  They will encourage us to overcome with courage the traumas caused by the tragic devastation of the tropical hurricanes ADL and Kenneth, and to face with faith and hope the difficult conditions of the population of the Province of Cabo Delgado caused by repeated attacks perpetrated by groups that have not yet been officially identified”, the bishops wrote is a message following the announcement of the Papal visit. The evangelization of Mozambique began in the 16th century, with the arrival of the Jesuits in 1560. In 1612 Paul VI elevated the territory of Mozambique as a suffragan Territorial Prelature of the archdiocese of Goa in India, a situation that remained unchanged until 1940 when it was promoted as Archdiocese of Lourenco Marques. In 1988 Pope John Paul II made his first pastoral visit to the Catholic Church of Mozambique and appointed the first native cardinal. For the first time, on 9 December 1911, the Holy See and Mozambique signed a bilateral agreement consolidating the bonds of friendship and collaboration between the two countries and regulating the legal status of the Catholic Church in Mozambique, present in the territory with 3 metropolitan seats and 9 suffragan dioceses. At the end of 2004 the Catholic Church in Mozambique comprised 294 parishes, 507 priests, 956 women religious, 295 schools and 178 charities.

Martyrs and cardinals. The Dominicans in 1580, and then the Jesuits (1610) played a central role in the Catholic evangelization of Madagascar. The Catholic mission suffered its first violent setback with the assassination of all French missionaries in 1674. At the beginning of the 19th century Catholicism was banned from the island, until the creation of two Apostolic Vicariates, between 1896 and 1898, in northern and southern Madagascar. The first local priests were ordained in 1925, one of whom was to become the first Madagascan bishop in 1939. Catechist Lucien Botovasoa was killed in hatred of his faith on April 16 1947, in a climate of hostility fomented by local leaders. In 1969 Jerome Louis Rakomatala was created first cardinal of Madagascar. In 1989 John Paul II made his first apostolic journey to Madagascar, where the Catholic Church is present with 5 dioceses and 17 suffragan dioceses, 317 parishes, 1134 priests, 3771 women religious, 3316 schools, 349 charities.

A diocese and an apostolic vicar. The last day of Pope Francis’ journey to Africa envisages a visit to the Catholic community of Mauritius, present on the territory with the diocese of Port-Louis, and the apostolic vicar of Rodrigues. The presence of the Catholic Church in Mauritius dates back to the early 18th century, marking the arrival the Congregation of the Mission that carried out its ministry of evangelization in the Country for over a century. The Apostolic Prefecture was established in 1772, it was promoted as Apostolic Vicariate in 1819. The diocese of Port Louis was elevated in 1847. John Paul II visited Mauritius in 1989, the Apostolic Vicariate of Rodriguez was established in 2002, with 91% of the population being Catholic. The local episcopate is a member by right of the Episcopal Conference of the Indian Ocean, which comprises the bishops of Comoros, Mauritius, Reunion, Mayotte and Seychelles.

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