Pope Francis will visit Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius from Sept. 4-10. Following are some of the highlights of his second trip to sub-Saharan Africa:
In Mozambique the pope’s theme for his Africa trip, as a “pilgrim of hope, peace and reconciliation”, is especially relevant. In August, the government and Renamo, a former guerrilla movement turned main opposition party, signed a peace agreement to formally end decades of often deadly hostilities.
During the last papal visit, by Pope John Paul in 1988, the civil war was still raging. More than 1 million people were killed before a 1992 ceasefire ended the worst of the bloodshed.
Pope Francis will meet with the government, civil society leaders and diplomats, ahead of an election next month that will be the first test of the peace treaty.
Mozambique is still recovering from two back-to-back cyclones, which killed more than 1,000 people in the region six months ago. Francis will not be visiting Beira, the city hardest hit by the storms.
MADAGASCAR (SEPT. 6-9)
In Madagascar, the pope will meet with President Andry Rajoelina, who took office in January after a closely contested election.
The Indian Ocean island state is one of Africa’s poorest nations, with more than 90% of its 25 million people living on less than $2 per day, according to the World Food Programme.
Around half the population follow indigenous beliefs while around 40% are Christians. About half of those are Catholic.
The pontiff will deliver a homily in the monastery of an order of cloistered Carmelite nuns. The Carmelites trace their roots to Mount Carmel in modern day Israel, where they came as pilgrims in the 12th century. The order arrived in Madagascar in1921.
He will also visit the tomb of Blessed Victoire Rasoamanarivo, a Malagasy woman who lived in the second half ofthe 19th century and converted to Catholicism from animism at the age of 15 despite the violent opposition of her family. She was married off two years later to the son of the prime minister, described as a violent drunk.
When foreign missionaries were expelled in 1883 during the Franco-Malagasy war, she confronted armed soldiers to lead Catholics into locked churches to pray. Later she devoted herself to lepers, the poor and sick. She was beatified in 1989,putting her one step away from sainthood.
The pope will also celebrate a Sunday Mass and lead prayers in several communities in the capital Antananarivo, including one established by his former student Father Pedro Opeka, a priest whose organisation has built homes for 25,000 poor people.
MAURITIUS (SEPT. 9)
The pope will spend a day in Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius, a small island state known for its beaches and tax treaties that anti-poverty campaigners say drain the wealth from developing nations. About a quarter of its 1.4 million people are Catholic.
Francis will pray at a shrine dedicated to Blessed Jacques-DÃ©sirÃ© Laval, a French doctor turned priest who arrived in Port Louis in 1841 and devoted his life to caring for former slaves in what was then a British colony.
Francis will also celebrate Mass at a monument to the VirginMary.