Pope Francis arrives Mozambique for a three day African tour
London, Sep 5, 2019 (AltAfrica)-Pope Francis arrived in Mozambique on Wednesday, marking his first stop in his three-country tour across Africa where he is expected to address economic disparity and climate change.
His arrival on Wednesday evening in Mozambique, which will be followed by stops in two island nations off its coast — Madagascar and Mauritius — will provide a sort of thematic homecoming for a pope who has prioritized what his Jesuit religious order calls the global “peripheries.”
On landing, the pope was greeted at the Maputo airport by Mozambique’s president, a red-jacketed brass band and dancers in traditional dress. Francis then rode in his popemobile on streets lined with waving and singing well-wishers to the Vatican embassy, where he spent the night.
“Effectively it is a visit that touches many themes close to his heart,” said the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, a prominent Jesuit priest in Rome who speaks often with Pope Francis.
He said that Francis had “confronted the questions that history has put to him,” but added, “certainly the pope loves to touch the places that have grave wounds due to war or natural calamities.”
He will have no shortage on this trip.
In Mozambique, a cyclone in March killed more than 1,000 people, and an election in October will test a new cease-fire aimed at ending a long-running insurgency. Foreign exploitation of natural resources has placed added pressure on the country’s politics and environment.
Flying east to Madagascar on Friday, Francis will find a vast island facing extreme poverty and deforestation, as well as rising seas and extreme storms that scientists attribute to climate change.
Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean, with its many religions and immigrants, will give Francis, a champion for migrants in the face of right-wing populism, another unique platform to weigh in from.
Francis has never stopped talking about these issues, but the political upheaval and church scandals of the intervening years drowned him out, and he sometimes seemed relegated to a forgotten figure. The rise of anti-migrant nationalists, including President Trump in the United States, Matteo Salvini in Italy and Victor Orban in Hungary, often left him sounding like a lone voice in a populist wilderness
In his trip, Francis will focus on “looking to the future, starting from the many positive signs that are there within the continent,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State told Vatican News, the church’s in-house outlet, last weekend.
The most positive signs in Africa are perhaps also the most basic for a church struggling to fill the pews and pulpits.
Africa is a source of new faithful and the priests who are increasingly missing from Europe and the United States.
According the Vatican’s Book of Statistics, the Catholic population increased by 14.2 million people between 2016 and 2018, bringing the total number of Catholics in the world to 1.3 billion people.
Growth occurred everywhere but in Europe, where the number of Catholics plummeted by another 240,000. Africa registered the most growth, adding 6.3 million more Catholics in just two years.
While Europe continues to be a dry well for priestly vocations, Africa is a wellspring.
And while those new priests and faithful may be more conservative, and less tolerant of homosexuality, than more liberal corners of the Western church favored by Francis, they are also well versed in the issues Francis cares most about.