Over the weekend in Madagascar, Pope Francis greeted packed stadiums full of celebrating locals, spoke to crowds numbering up to 1 million people and was embraced by many of the country’s youth, who traveled and waited for hours to catch a glimpse of him during his trip to the country.
But while the pope’s visit to Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius was buoyed by an optimistic message of peace and faith, the realities he addressed at nearly every stop weighted his speeches and meetings with concerns about climate change, poverty and other darker issues.
In the capital of Madagascar, Antananarivo, on Sept. 7, Francis called on local authorities to take more responsible care of the planet’s resources for the good “not only of present generations, but also of those yet to come,” he said.
Deforestation in Madagascar has become an increasing concern as a growing portion of its biodiverse forests are cut down and burned to leave way for cattle and farmland. According to photographic evidence, more than half of the forest in Madagascar has been lost since 1950.
The care of the environment, especially forests, is particularly important for this pontificate. Following the release of his encyclical on the environment in 2015, Laudato Si, he called a synod specifically to discuss the spiritual and environmental needs of the Amazon forest, for which the world’s bishops will come to Rome in October.
Beyond the quickening depletion of the country’s resources, the citizens of Madagascar also face crippling poverty levels that leave 75% of the population living on less than $2 a day, according to the World Bank.
During a vigil at the Soa Mandrakizay field on Saturday, Francis encouraged the thousands of young people to not stop moving forward despite the challenges of day-to-day survival and despite social injustice and instability.
Some may be “tempted to give up,” the pope said, adding that the devil often reminds us of our sins and imperfections to make us feel like “however much we do, nothing can ever change, everything will remain the same.”
But God, Francis said, “wants you to share all your gifts and charisms, all your dreams and your talents.”
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Source: Religion News Service