Amid growth, pope urges Mauritius to aid young, poor

Friday, September 20, 2019 - Updated: 4:00 pm

By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service

PORT LOUIS, Mauritius — Statistical indicators show Mauritius’ rapid economic growth has benefited all sectors of society, lifting thousands out of poverty over the past 30 years, but Pope Francis still urged the island’s Catholics to be careful.

The danger is that “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,” he said at Mass Sept. 9 on a terraced hillside overlooking Port Louis.

Officials said 100,000 people gathered on the hillside for the Mass. Some held umbrellas, while most were wearing straw hats to protect themselves from the sun. The young, though, wore baseball caps.

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. The young people in the crowd cheered their approval.

Mauritius has become a super-success story for development in Africa following efforts to diversify the economy. Rather than relying mostly on sugar cane and textiles, now the country is known for tourism, call centers and “financial services,” which make the country a tax haven for many.

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.”

On an island colonized by the Dutch, the French and the British over the past 400 years and where colonizers brought slaves from Africa or indentured servants from India and China, the population is mixed ethnically and religiously. According to Vatican statistics, about 28 percent of the population is Catholic. Almost half of all Mauritians are Hindu, and Muslims make up about 17 percent of the population.

During the second reading at Pope Francis’ Mass, the crowd could hear a muezzin calling Muslims to midday prayer in the neighborhood below.

In the pope’s afternoon speech to government officials, civic leaders and members of the diplomatic corps, he noted the diversity and praised the beauty that comes from “the ability to acknowledge, respect and harmonize existing differences in view of a common project.”

The diversity of which the nation boasts was the result of both forced and voluntary migration; when the Portuguese discovered the island in 1505, it was uninhabited. However, there were dodo birds, which became extinct by the mid-17th century during the rule of the Dutch.

Pope Francis pleaded with Mauritians to recognize their migrant roots and to do more to be welcoming to those who come to their shores seeking safety and a better life.

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