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Fr. Albanese: “Francis’ visit to Africa is courageous”

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November 18, 2015

banguiREFLECTION - “Even after the terrible attacks in Paris, we must not let ourselves feel intimidated because it would mean falling into the trap of the jihadist troops. Francis’ visit to Africa is courageous…” Fr. Giulio Albanese, a Combonian missionary and director of monthly magazine Popoli e Missione will be travelling with Francis during his visit to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic from 25 to 30 November. Vatican Insider interviewed him.

How should we view the Pope’s upcoming trip to Africa in light of the Paris attacks?

“We must not let ourselves be intimidated because this would mean falling into the trap of the jihadist troops. Having said that, Francis’ visit, particularly the Central African Republic part of his visit, is courageous because we know that there is still shooting going on in the capital, Bangui. Let’s hope the situation improves. The fact that the opening of the Holy Door for the Year of Mercy has been brought forward, perfectly sums up the message of Francis’ pontificate. It is a historic gesture as it is the first time a Pope is to open the first Holy Door for a Jubilee in a southern hemisphere country. Despite the fact that things are not looking rosy in the capital of the Central African Republic, to put it mildly.

Are there also fears regarding the Kenyan leg of the Pope’s visit? 

“Security is better in Kenya, rule of law is in force and most importantly, there is no war. We must, however, bear in mind that there is a significant present of Somalis in Nairobi and some are worried that the jihadists of Al-Shabaab, the radical wing of the now-defunct Union of Islamic Courts, may carry out attacks. It should also be said that the Kenyan army and police have been preparing for this visit for quite some time now and have taken every single detail into account. Meanwhile, the situation in Kampala, Uganda, the second leg of Pope Francis’ African voyage, is calm.”

What will the most important parts of the Pope’s visit be? What do you expect the Pope might say? 

“I believe the most important theme of his visit to the Central African Republic, is reconciliation. There are rifts and struggles between jihadists and Christians that are presented as religious but the root of clashes is often ethnic and we must not forget that there are underlying economic interests. That country could be heaven on earth. It has vitally important resources, oil and Uranium deposits. And yet, in terms of development it’s at the bottom of the pile compared to other countries in the region. Its resources are sold or sold off abroad. In its report, “Blood Timber”, British NGO Global Witness documented a worrying behind-the-scenes event in the serious conflict that broke out in the Central African Republic in 2012. It emerged that some companies operating in the wood business financed various rebel factions - armed groups accused of war crimes - in order to obtain advantageous contracts and wood from these very militants. These companies belong to Belgian, French, German, Chinese and Lebanese entrepreneurs. The report also criticises the European Union – which imports two thirds of CAR’s wood – for insufficient oversight.

And what do you expect his most important message for Kenya will be?

“This country too is sitting on vital natural resource deposits. I think that in this case too, it is crucial to stress the role of religions in appeasement and rejection of the use of God’s name to justify terrorism, violence and subversion. We must remember that the Holy Thursday massacre at Garissa University in 2015, claimed the lives of 148 people, mostly Christian students. Al-Shabaab’s jihadists carried out the killing because they associate Christianity with the West and they know that the massacre of Christians make headlines more than Muslim killings to.”

Finally, there’s Uganda, a quieter country which is nevertheless marked by huge social inequality…

“Yes, it is a litmus test of Africa’s contradictions, a country that has been governed by the same person for almost thirty years. There is a big oil business in Lake Albert but huge quantities of money always end up in the hands of a handful of nababbis.  Meanwhile, all around, social exclusion is growing. I think the theme here could be poverty, social exclusion and the importance of democratic participation.”

What are the expectations for this visit?

“2000 years ago, Pliny the Elder used to say: "Ex Africa semper aliquid novi", in other words, (There’s always something new coming out of Africa). I think this is true and I hope this will be the chance for Africa to give something back in terms of testimony. I am thinking of initiatives such as the one inaugurated at the Institute of Social Ministry in Mission, at Tangaza College in Nairobi, where a doctoral course in business administration with a specialisation in entrepreneurship and social management. The aim is to train entrepreneurs instilling in them the values of a new entrepreneurial culture, as suggested in Benedict XVI’s "Caritas in veritate" encyclical.

Source: Vatican Insider, November 11, 2015

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