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Pope Francis To Visit 3 Countries In Sub-Saharan Africa


Pope Francis is heading, this week, to three southeastern African nations - Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius. Why there? NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: This is the pope's latest journey to what he calls the peripheries of the world. All three countries have experienced serious challenges in recent years, from violence, conflict and political instability to devastating natural disasters. Mozambique has had them all. Rich in natural resources, the U.N. ranks it among the world's least developed countries.

Earlier this year, large areas were struck by two of Africa's worst tropical cyclones on record. Father Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, a Nigerian who is president of the Jesuit order's conference of Africa and Madagascar, says, over Skype, that the cyclones had devastating effects, killing hundreds and destroying the livelihood of thousands. He expects Francis, an ardent environmentalist, will speak about the dangers of global warming and irresponsible development.

AGBONKHIANMEGHE OROBATOR: In a country that is already challenged economically and also politically - because there are lingering disaffection amongst the people and division due to the civil war and the lack of a stable peaceful environment for democratic governance.

POGGIOLI: In 1992, the Rome-based Sant'Egidio Community, a lay Catholic group, brokered a peace agreement in Mozambique, ending its long civil war. Since then, Sant'Egidio has set up clinics there to care for HIV patients. During his stay, the pope will visit the only private health care facility in the country that provides free care. Its program is called DREAM, Disease Relief through Excellent and Advanced Means. Nelson Moda (ph), a Sant'Egidio representative, says throughout Africa for a long time, HIV patients were seen as outcasts, poor people who had lost their dignity.

NELSON MODA: The strategy of the DREAM center of the Community of Sant'Egidio is to give back this dignity that the people have lost. So coming to this center, the pope is meeting all the poor directly.

POGGIOLI: As for the other countries on the itinerary, Madagascar has also experienced political instability, and Mauritius has suffered from government corruption. Jesuit leader Father Orobator laments poor political leadership in much of Africa. He's certain Francis will not shy away from urging politicians to show greater responsibility toward their citizens.

OROBATOR: In terms of governance, accountability, transparency, these are people whose lives are entangled in the political dysfunctionalities of these countries.

POGGIOLI: While Mozambique and Madagascar are predominantly Christian countries, Catholics are a minority in Mauritius' multi-ethnic population. Father Orobator says that religious diversity obliges the Catholic Church to promote interreligious dialogue.

OROBATOR: It faces the challenge of engaging with other faith traditions in such a way that it's able to continue to be a voice for moderation, a voice for tolerance and a voice for intercommunal peace.

POGGIOLI: The Jesuit leader also hopes Pope Francis will remind Catholic leaders in Africa to walk side by side with their flock with humility, authenticity and a great deal of compassion.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ECHELON EFFECT'S "SIGNALS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.
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