Media Center5 Points Pope Francis Is Expected to Highlight During His Trip to Africa
With nearly 200 million Catholics, Africa has the fastest growing Catholic population in the world today. Since 1980, the Catholic Church has grown 238 percent, according to a study released this year by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. Pope Francis’ visit to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic Nov. 25 – 30 will serve as an important opportunity to highlight some of the continent’s most pressing issues.
1. Support Peace and Reconciliation in the Central African Republic
Pope Francis recently spoke about the fresh outbreak of sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims in the Central African Republic (CAR) that has forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes. “I reiterate my closeness to the afflicted and tormented nation and urge all Central Africans to be witnesses of mercy and to work for reconciliation,” he said. The Holy Father is scheduled to meet with Islamic and Protestant leaders as well as those from the Catholic Church, an opportunity for him to speak about his upcoming Year of Mercy and the need for peace and reconciliation, in CAR and elsewhere. “The pope wants Muslims involved in the upcoming Jubilee,” the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin told reporters recently. “The pope wants the Jubilee to serve for people meeting, to understand and overcome their hate. In a world torn apart by violence, it's the right time to launch a mercy offensive. Mercy is also the most beautiful name of God for the Muslims, who can be involved in this Holy Year, as the pope wishes.”
The Catholic Church has been on the forefront of working with other religious leaders to promote peace in CAR, and CRS has worked on inter-faith reconciliation since the beginning of the conflict, training 1,200 of local community and religious leaders of all faiths in peace and conflict resolution, with the aim to restore social cohesion in communities and break the cycle of violence.
Learn more about CRS’ work in CAR.
2. Care for Creation
As Pope Francis knows, the majority of Africa’s smallholder farmers are dependent on rain-fed agriculture. Though their simple lifestyle has contributed the least to creating the problem of global warming, these small-scale farmers are most affected by its consequences – droughts, floods, disease, pests, shifting rainfall patterns that leave farmers uncertain when to plant, higher temperatures that wither crops, that change crop planting zones. In Laudato Si, his encyclical on the environment, Pope Francis asked us to take responsibility for our actions that drive climate shifts and negatively affect the world’s poor, especially in Africa where erratic rainful and now El Nino are pushing millions to the edge of survival.
3. Eradicate Poverty and Suffering
Home to the world’s 20 poorest countries, African societies struggle to assist millions of people living on less than $2 a day. In his September address to the United Nations, Pope Francis echoed Catholic Social Teaching’s “preferential option for the poor,” calling on government leaders to “do everything possible to ensure that all can have the minimum spiritual and material means needed to live in dignity and to create and support a family, which is the primary cell of any social development. In practical terms, this absolute minimum has three names: lodging, labour, and land […].” He is expected to make similar remarks while visiting one of the poorest communities in Kenya, the slum of Kangemi in Nairobi, and a displacement camp in CAR.
Throughout Africa, CRS and the local Church are working together on programs that address extreme poverty by, for instance, turning poor farmers into successful businessmen, linking them with markets where sales of their crops are a route out of poverty. While Kenya and Uganda have made strides in addressing extreme poverty, the needs are still great. In CAR, one of the world’s poorest countries, CRS is addressing conflict and displacement as a first to create an environment where development is possible.
4. Youth and Family
On the continent with the highest population of young people in the world, and where more than half of people aged 18-35 are unemployed, hearing from the Pope about their purpose and challenges will be especially meaningful for Africa’s youth. The Holy Father’s schedule includes a meeting with youth in Nairobi, Kenya and in Kampala, Uganda. All three countries the Pope will visit are facing unemployment rates that are significantly higher for young people. In Kenya, where the median age is 19, 70 percent of the young working class - almost 10 million people - are unemployed. Addressing their needs and hopes, and encouraging leaders to care for their youth, will be an important component of the Pope’s visit, not only from a pastoral standpoint but also in order to create opportunities for youth to help stem emigration and recruitment by extremist groups. CRS is working for and with youth in Kenya, Uganda and CAR. In CAR, working with young people has been critical to addressing the conflict there.
5. Promote the Common Good
The Pope often calls on government leaders and business people of all countries to be more responsive to the poor, of their own countries and of the world. Africa is growing in prosperity but the gap between rich and poor is immense. “It is the responsibility of the State to safeguard and promote the common good of society,” Francis wrote in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. “I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor! It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare.” This, Pope Francis has made clear, is the pathway to lasting peace.