Pope Francis celebrated mass in Port Louis, Mauritius, on the last full day of his week-long African apostolic visit. Twenty-two South Africans were in Port Louis for the mass. They were part of The Southern Cross, Spotlight Africa and Radio Veritas pilgrimage. Russell Pollitt SJ writes from Mauritius.
A sea of people gathered on the slopes of a hill, with Port Louis as the backdrop, at the open-air altar dedicated to Mary, Queen of Peace. People waved palm branches and cheered jubilantly as the Holy Father arrived.
A group of South African pilgrims were present to welcome Pope Francis along with an estimated 100,000 Mauritians when he arrived in Port Louis on Monday 9 September.
Mauritius was the last full day of his weeklong visit to Africa – he also visited Mozambique and Madagascar.
The Pope celebrated Mass for the feast day of Fr Jacques-Desire Laval, a 19th century French missionary who is revered by Mauritians across ethnic and religious backgrounds. Laval is also known as the “Apostle to Mauritius”. Less than a third of Mauritius’ 1.3 million people are Roman Catholic.
Laval was the first person to be beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1979. He ministered to free slaves who were treated as second-class citizens in Mauritius by taking care of their spiritual, educational and healthcare needs. A shrine to Laval stands in the heart if Port Louis. Thousands of Mauritians visit the shrine every year. Pope Francis will also stop at the shrine to pray.
Fittingly, on a hill over-looking Port Louis, the Gospel of the Beatitudes was proclaimed. In his homily Pope Francis said that the Beatitudes are “like the Christian’s identity card.” He went on to say that if anyone asks what they should do to be a good Christian, the answer is clear.
Pope Francis said that Fr Laval had “love for Christ and for the poor [which] so marked his life that he could not conceive of an ‘aloof and sanitized’ preaching of the Gospel. He said that Laval gave the Mauritian Church “a new youth, a new life, that today we are asked to carry forward.” He encouraged the people of Mauritius to foster this momentum and warned them that “we can yield to the temptation to lose our enthusiasm for evangelization by taking refuge in worldly securities.”
The pope lamented the fact that despite the economic growth that has taken place in Mauritius in recent decades, young people suffer unemployment, which gives them little hope for the future and “prevents them from believing that they play a significant part in your shared history.” He went on to say that uncertainty about the future makes young people feel that they are on the margins of society. He said that it “leaves them vulnerable and helpless before new forms of slavery in this twenty-first century.” He encouraged the Church to spend time with them. He also lamented the drug problem among young people saying “Let us not allow those who deal in death to rob the first fruits of this land!”
The Holy Father addressed the question of the decline in numbers of consecrated persons. He said that we should be more concerned about the “lack of men and women who let their hearts burn with the most beautiful and liberating of all messages”. He said that we should not be concerned with the “decline of this or that mode of consecration in the Church, but with the lack of men and women who wish to experience happiness on the paths of holiness.”
During his one-day visit the Pope also met with the local bishops and priests. He raised concerns with the government about corruption and allegations that the island-nation has become a tax haven – something officials have denied. On Monday evening the Pope concludes his eight-hour visit to Mauritius, and returns to Antananarivo, Madagascar. He leaves for Rome on Tuesday morning, 10 September.