Apostolic Visit to Africa
Pope Francis visited Africa for the first time in November 2015, bringing a message of peace and opening the Holy Door for the Jubilee of Mercy. The following are a few excerpts on the family from his journey.
On Thursday, November 26th, after an ecumenical and interreligious gathering in Nairobi, Pope Francis celebrated Holy Mass on the campus of the University of Nairobi. He began his homily by speaking of the Church as God’s family and expressed joy that the people of Kenya have been brought into the Christian family. He invited participants of the Mass to “realize how important [our own families] are in God’s plan.” The Holy Father continued: “Kenyan society has long been blessed with strong family life, a deep respect for the wisdom of the elderly and love for children. The health of any society depends on the health of its families. For their sake, and for the good of society, our faith in God’s word calls us to support families in their mission in society, to accept children as a blessing for our world, and to defend the dignity of each man and woman, for all of us are brothers and sisters in the one human family.” The pope said that in this light we must “resist practices which foster arrogance in men, hurt or demean women, and threaten the life of the innocent unborn.” Instead, men and women are called to “respect and encourage one another and to reach out to all those in need.” Pope Francis said that Christian families have a “special mission” to spread the love of God in place of indifference and materialism. Finally, Pope Francis asked men and women to be missionary disciples and “building blocks of a house that stands firm,” a house which is a home, “where brothers and sisters at last live in harmony and mutual respect, in obedience to the will of the true God.”
The next morning, November 27th, the Holy Father visited the Kangemi slum and spoke of the rights of families to the essentials of life. He enumerated the following: “dignified housing, access to drinking water, a toilet, reliable sources of energy for lighting, cooking and improving their homes; that every neighborhood has streets, squares, schools, hospitals, areas for sport, recreation and art; that basic services are provided to each of you; that your appeals and your pleas for greater opportunity can be heard; that all can enjoy the peace and security which they rightfully deserve on the basis of their infinite human dignity.” He pointed out the ways that society should seek to provide infrastructure for the flourishing of family life.
Then the Holy Father met with young people at Kasarani Stadium. In his address, the pope spoke above all about the necessity of being people of prayer in order to combat tribalism and corruption. He also stressed the proper use of communications media, education and employment to combat the recruitment of young people into violent groups. “Pray hard!” he told those gathered. The Holy Father shared with the young people that he carries a rosary and a small “way of the cross” with him at all times, to remind him to keep his eyes on Christ. Pope Francis said, “Everywhere there are young people who were abandoned, either at birth or later on, by their family, their parents, and so they have never known the love of a family. That is why families are so important. Protect the family! Defend it always.” He responded to a question from a young person named Manuel (whom he jokingly called “our theologian”) about what a person can do when they have not experienced love in their family. The pope said that to overcome this experience, “There is only one remedy: to give what you have not received. If you have not received understanding, then show understanding to others. If you have not received love, then show love to others. If you have known loneliness, then try to be close to others who are lonely. Flesh is cured with flesh! And God took flesh in order to heal us. So let us do the same with others.”
In Uganda the next day, November 28th, Pope Francis again met with young people, this time at the Kololo Air Strip in Kampala. Here he focused on the gift of hope and touched on the obstacles that young people encounter. He used an analogy to illustrate our relationship to God: a young child in front of a big puddle who wants to get across it. “He may try but then he stumbles and gets soaked. Then, after many attempts, he calls out to his father, who takes his hand and swings him over to the other side. We are like that child. Life presents us with many dirty puddles. But we don’t have to overcome all those problems and hurdles on our own. God is there to take our hand, if only we call on him.” The Holy Father said that one “puddle” he particularly wanted to address was “fear of failing in [the] commitment to love, and above all, failing in that great and lofty ideal which is Christian marriage.” He said that sometimes fears of failing to be a good spouse and parent “come from the devil who does not want you to be happy.” The pope asked young couples “to trust that God wants to bless their love and their lives with his grace in the sacrament of marriage. God’s gift of love is at the heart of Christian marriage.” Pope Francis also challenged the youth of Uganda not to “embrace models of gratification and consumption alien to the deepest values of African culture,” specifying “misuse of our modern means of communication, where young people are exposed to images and distorted views of sexuality that degrade human dignity, leading to sadness and emptiness.” He told the young people to look to the Ugandan martyrs and think about how they would react to such things.
Finally, Pope Francis’ parting words to the youth in Uganda were to turn to Mary, the Mother of Hope, and, of course, asking them to pray for him.