Last week the Pope made pastoral visits to Kenya, Uganda, and the Central African Republic (countries which are 42%, 37%, and 32%, respectively, Roman Catholic). In his many public appearances, Pope Francis addressed both local Church concerns and universal needs. He continues to develop the themes laid out in Laudato si, his summer encyclical, including environmental justice and advocacy for land, lodging, and labor for all, and the struggle against economic imperialism and the globalization of a ‘throwaway culture’ which, the Pope says, “blinds us to spiritual values, hardens our hearts before the needs of the poor, and robs our young of hope.” He ended his journey with a visit to a mosque and a plea for Muslim-Christian solidarity. What follows are some remarks from the Pope’s journey addressed particularly to the young.
At Mass at the university of Nairobi on Thursday, Pope Francis made a special appeal to the young people of the nation: “Let the great values of Africa’s traditions, the wisdom and truth of God’s word, and the generous idealism of your youth guide you in working to shape a society which is ever more just, inclusive and respectful of human dignity. May you always be concerned for the needs of the poor, and reject everything that leads to prejudice and discrimination, for these things, we know, are not of God…. Stand strong in faith! Do not be afraid, for you belong to the Lord.”
At a youth rally in Kasarani sports stadium in Nairobi, the Pope responded to questions put to him. Leaving aside his prepared remarks, he addressed the plight of abandoned children who have never known familial love and support. His answer pointed to the power of the Incarnation: “There is just one cure to emerge from this experience: give what you have not received. If you have not received understanding, be understanding with others; if you have not received love, love others; if you have felt the pain of loneliness, draw close to those who are alone. Flesh is healed with flesh! And God made Himself flesh to heal us. Let us too do the same towards others.”
On Sunday, in the Central African Republic, Pope Francis spoke of peace to young people gathered at an all-night prayer vigil, “Peace is not a document that is signed and stays there. Peace is made every day! Peace is a craft, it is made by hand, with one’s own life. But some may say, ‘Tell me, Father, how can I be an artisan of peace?’ First: never hate. If someone harms you, try to forgive. No hatred! Forgiveness! Let us say this together: No hatred! Forgiveness! If you do not have hatred in your heart, if you forgive, you will be victorious, because you will be victorious in the most difficult battled of life: victorious in love. And through love comes peace.”
Justice for all, self-giving, and peace are all proper dispositions for the liturgical season of Advent which began this Sunday. Let us all dress ourselves with these virtues highlighted by the Pope as we prepare for the annual commemoration of Christ’s birth, his ultimate return in glory, and his daily coming into our hearts.