In his fourth apostolic journey to the African continent, visiting Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius Pope Francis said to young people: “keep dreaming and moving forward”.
In Mozambique, Pope Francis encouraged young people of different faiths to not give up in the face of their country’s challenges, but to confront them with joy and hope. “How do you make your dreams come true? How do you help to solve your country’s problems? My words to you are these. Do not let yourselves be robbed of joy. Keep singing and expressing yourselves in fidelity to all the goodness that you have learned from your traditions. Let no one rob you of your joy!”,
He continued: “Dream together, as you are doing today. Dream with others, never against others. Keep dreaming the way you dreamed: all together and without barriers.”
Pope Francis indicated Mozambique’s greatest sports icons, Eusébio da Silva and Maria Mutola, as an inspiration to young people not to give up fighting for their dreams. He said: “I know most of you are enthused about football. I remember a great player from these lands who learned not to give up: Eusébio da Silva, the Black Panther. He began his athletic career in this city. The severe economic hardships of his family and the premature death of his father did not prevent him from dreaming; his passion for football made him persevere, keep dreaming and moving forward. He managed to score seventy-seven goals for Maxaquene! Despite having plenty of reasons to give up.”
Talking to the youth in the Maxaquene Sports Pavillion, the Holy Father continued: “His dream and his desire to play kept him going, but equally important was finding someone to play with. You know that in a team not everyone is the same; they don’t all do the same things or think the same way. Each player has his own gifts. We can see and appreciate this even in this meeting of ours. We come from different traditions and we may even speak different languages, but this has not stopped us from being here together as a group.”
Maria Mutola was a woman who did not give up fighting for her dreams, “you have before your eyes that beautiful testimony given by Mutola, who learned to persevere, to keep trying, even though she did not attain the goal of a gold medal in her first three Olympic Games. Then, on her fourth attempt, this 800-metre athlete won the gold medal at the Sydney Olympics.”
“Her efforts did not make her self-absorbed; her nine world titles did not let her forget her people, her roots: she continued to look out for the needy children of Mozambique. We see how sport teaches us to persevere in our dreams!” Pope Francis said.
Finally the Pope concluded: “Together, you are the beating heart of this people and all of you have a fundamental role to play in one great creative project: to write a new page of history, a page full of hope, peace and reconciliation.”
The next day, at a prayer vigil in Antananarivo, capital of Madagascar, Pope Francis told a crowd of young people that “Jesus has called you and has entrusted a mission to you. Through you, the future is coming to Madagascar and to the Church.”
Pope Francis said he thinks of every young person as a seeker: “Each person shows it differently, but deep down all of you are looking for the happiness that no one will be able to take from us.” The pope responded to two testimonies he heard from young adults in the course of the vigil. One was from a 27-year-old man named Rova Sitraka Ranarison.
Pope Francis commented on the story of the young man, who had recounted that he had for a long time felt a desire to visit prisoners, so he had begun to help a priest’s prison ministry, and eventually became more and more involved, adopting it as his “personal mission.”
“You realized that your life is a mission. This search, born of faith, helps make the world in which we live a better place, more in accord with the Gospel,” Pope Francis told Rova.
He also noted the transformation the young man experienced, remarking that it “changed your way of seeing and judging people. It made you a fairer and more sensitive person.”
Rova, the Pope said, learned to see people as the Lord sees people. “He does not call us by our sins, our errors, our faults, our limits, but by our name; each of us is precious in his eyes.”
Pope Francis also pointed to the testimony of a 21-year-old woman, Vavy Elyssa Nekendraza, who he said made this point well: that “it is impossible to be a missionary disciple all by ourselves.”
An encounter with Jesus as individuals and as a community is essential, he said.
“Certainly, we can accomplish great things on our own, but together we can dream of and undertake things undreamt of! Vavy put it nicely: we are invited to find the face of Jesus in the face of others.”
During his eight hours in Mauritius — making his visit a day trip from Madagascar — Pope Francis urged the local church and government to make greater efforts to listen to and involve the island’s young people in every aspect of life. “This is not always easy. It means learning to acknowledge the presence of the young and to make room for them,” he said.
Pope Francis noted, though, how unemployment still is a problem particularly for young adults, which “not only creates uncertainty about the future, but also prevents them from believing that they play a significant part in your shared future.”
Cardinal Maurice Piat of Port Louis has written about the island’s “vocations crisis,” which Pope Francis tied to the question of economic prosperity and attention to the young.
“When we hear the threatening prognosis that ‘our numbers are decreasing,’ we should be concerned not so much 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,” the Pope said. “Young people need to be seen and encouraged by priests and religious who give witness to the joy of a life dedicated totally to serving God and one’s brothers and sisters”.
At Mass, Pope Francis urged Catholics to avoid worldly securities, to increase their zeal for evangelization, and to invite the young to be an active part of the Church. Talking about Blessed Jacques-Désiré Laval who was a French missionary priest and member of the Spiritan order, the Pope said: “Through his missionary outreach and his love, Father Laval gave to the Mauritian Church a new youth, a new life, that today we are asked to carry forward. ”
“We need to foster this missionary momentum,” he added, “because it can happen that, as the Church of Christ, we can yield to the temptation to lose our enthusiasm for evangelization by taking refuge in worldly securities that slowly but surely not only affect the mission but actually hamper it and prevent it from drawing people together.”
Finally the Pope stated emphatically: “Our young people are our foremost mission! We must invite them to find their happiness in Jesus; not by speaking to them in an aloof or distant way, but by learning how to make room for them, ‘learning their language,’ listening to their stories, spending time with them and making them feel that they too are blessed by God.” (C.C.)