Pope Francis to African youth: “when young people stop dreaming countries come to an end.”

On the 1st November 2022 the Holy Father spoke to the university students of Africa about building bridges across Africa. Nine young people from nine different countries representing more than 30 universities had a chance to each comment and ask a question to Pope Francis. At the beginning of his conversation the Holy Father said young people are nothing new, and they are the roots. He said the stronger they are, the stronger their roots will be. He urged them not be individual roots and that their roots must turn into a tree which in turn can lead to fruits.

Talking about the past the Holy Father said history is not always a pleasant story, “History can be very harsh. There are people who have built their history on blood, and many of you belongs to those peoples.” Pope Francis therefore, urged young people to take a history of their people as part of themselves, as part of your maturity. He noted that all people are born as something small and can only be mature one accepts the burden of history, the good and the bad part of it. “The bad part of history you are familiar with, exploitation, slavery. You know what it means to exploit Africa without allowing it to grow,” added the Holy Father.  

The Pope went on to speak about the concept of Ubuntu of which said he would like to express his appreciation for and that he believes that encounter of ubuntu people can be led forward, “The richness of your ubuntu as a form of salvation through community.” The Roman Pontiff said Africa was exploited, and sometimes when independence was granted, it was granted only from soil up whereas everything under the soil continued to belong to exploiters. According to Pope Francis through the term ubuntu Africans are their own masters, “You are your own missionaries. Run forward. Africa is not meant to be exploited.” Pope Francis said Africa is not meant to be seen as a subculture and young African have to appreciate the wealth that they are.

Among those who welcomed the Pope to an online encounter was Fr. Stan Chu Ilo a member of the Pan African Catholic Theology and Pastoral Network. As a way of introduction Fr. Stan Chu Ilo he reminded his Holiness Pope Francis that one of the ancient designation of the papacy is a bridge builder. By this he was referring to the title Pontefice (in Latin), a noun from which derives the English title Pontiff. He thanked the Pope for teaching people how to build the bridges by his exemplary life and teaching.

Responding to Twiza Nachilongo from Zambia on the issue of spirituality, the Pontiff said, her remarks borne to mind something called supermarket of salvation. This followed Nachilongo’s comment that there are many healing ministries, prosperity gospel message, and spiritual movements inn Africa and young people don’t know how to discern among these groups. “When facing this real supermarket of offers we sometimes don’t know which path to choose, but we do have a clear criterion that we can look to. We find the path in our heart.” The Pope said one can feel in one’s heart that is looking for God and others, urging that there is not need to look to other religious offers of other religious groups.  The Holy Father said regardless of which religious group one belong to one must keep in mind that the most important thing for religious groups is that it does not take away one’s freedom

Among some of the Clevine Kavira from DRC spoke about to the Holy Father she asked about the trip that was cancelled that the Holy was due to make to the DRC and South Sudan. In response the Pope Francis said if all goes well in early February 2022 he will make the promised trip to Africa. To Devis Ampereza from Uganda who spoke about the endless wars in Africa the Holy Father said If people were to stop selling arms that would stop hunger for one year. He said the sale of arms keeps people in slavery. Pope Francis urged young people to work to achieve true independence, not partial.

Akakpo Ghislain from the Ivory Coast spoke to the Pope about the problem of deforestation in his country and the role of the multinational companies on this problem. With his bitter-sweet answer the 267th Pope of the Catholic Church said the Ivory Coast has the best chocolate in Africa but if something is not done on the deforestation now soon it is going to be too late. The Pope said the multinational corporations that exploit nature need to be looked at. Pope Francis said people are raping the earth because they want to dominate it and any act that leads to imbalance must be eliminated.

Roman Pontiff said young people must organize yourselves and not act as individuals because it they isolate themselves they will lose. He was talking about the imbalance that was highlighted by Joelle Massengo of Congo Brazzaville regarding the exploitation of the countries of the south by the countries of the north. The Pope said there is an imbalance between production and the fruits of that production. He said there is a need to build bridges between north and south, and in the continent. “Don’t limit yourselves to being concerned, but act,” said the Pope to the youth.

Eddah Nabwire Marakha from Kenya said young people are left out of matters in which they are supposed to participate even though they have a desire to participate. To this Pope Francis said the lack of participation of young people is a death of a country. But the Pope also noted that sometimes young are not cautious, and sometimes are too cautious. He said they need to be bold and receive guidance from older and wiser people.

The Pope said he is also concerned by the problem of fundamentalism, terrorism, banditry when Osemeke Augustine Chidera from Nigeria spoke to the Holy Father about the problems that are faced by Nigerians, especially the persecution of Christians. Pope advised that young people cannot be passive and they need to equip themselves with religious doctrine. He said Politics is the highest form of charity because it is geared towards common good and urged young people to inform themselves about the political situation of the countries. But he advised them be cautious and smart too, and learn from elders, asking for their suggestions and guidance. “Keep in mind that God loves you.”

Biligui Nelly Didiane from Cameroon also had a chance to speak to the Pope and she said young people feel cornered by politicians  and social injustices leave many without hope and in a situation of insecurity. Didiane felt that the Church can be at the forefront of the economic liberation of its people through empowerment projects. The Pope then acknowledged that one of the problems young people are facing is the lack of professional integration as was mentioned by Didiane. The Pope said the Church can do more in promoting young people even from schools and universities, “Without cooperating with the powers that oppress universities have to be free and young people have to grow in freedom.  Young people have to have a mature mind, a mature heart, and the ability to act.”

Kelvin Takudzwa Tsuro from Zimbabwe was the last to pose a question to the Pope. He said young people are struggling with their identity. He wanted to know what it really means to be an African young Catholic because there is today identities have become confused, sexual, racial, ethnic and religious. Tsuro said the young in living in a highly disintegrated society and the young people are caught up in the situation. He said young people wish to live the message of the Gospel and ubuntu. They wish to participate in decision makings of the church even though their culture states than young people must not participate in the meeting of the elders. In response the Pope admitted that the identity of young people is a serious question, “In this day and age identities are being questioned. We ask ourselves, what is identity? And therefore, young people ask themselves, who are we young African?” The Pope said young people were not born our of magic, they have history and roots. “If young people don’t have about the roots they received, their families, countries, history, then young people cannot become mature,” said Pope Francis, urging young people to be aware of their roots. He also said young people must not hide in their roots but take them into the future. “Young Christians have a duty to be engaged, otherwise they wouldn’t be Christian.”

In closing the Holy Father said he was glad to have had a meeting with the young people of Africa and was impressed by their remarks. He reiterated that he believes young Africans have values and asked them to continue to be engaged without ever forgetting to keep their roots in mind. He reminded the young people that they were not born under a tree but the were born with a history. The Roman Pontiff advised the young people of Africa to live in the present with a firm view of reality and try not be alienated. “Don’t stop dreaming because when young people stop dreaming that’s when countries come to an end.”  



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