Vatican City, Sep 10, 2015 / 06:22 am America/Denver (CNA).
The Vatican today officially announced that Pope Francis will travel to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic in November, a plan informally revealed by the Pope himself this summer.
After accepting “the invitation issued by the respective Heads of State and the Bishops,” Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the African continent from Nov. 25-30, a Sept. 10 communique from the Vatican announced.
He will set foot in Kenya first, where he will stay from Nov. 25-27, before moving on to Uganda Nov. 27-29. His last stop will be the Central African Republic, from Nov. 29-30.
Francis first announced his intention to travel to Africa – specifically the Central African Republic and Uganda – during a news conference while returning from a trip to Sri Lanka and the Philippines in January.
He confirmed the plans in a June 12 meeting with hundreds of priests from around the world participating in the Third World Priests Retreat in the Basilica of St. John Lateran when he answered a question from an African priest about when he planned to visit.
“God willing, I will be in Africa in November. In the Central African Republic first and then Uganda,” he responded.
The Pope also noted that the trip will come “before the presidential transition in the Central African Republic, and Uganda after the 50th anniversary of the martyrs, though a little late.”
The 22 Ugandan Martyrs were killed by the king in the 1880s for refusing to recant their faith. They were canonized Oct. 18, 1964 by Pope Paul VI in St. Peter's Basilica. The Church of Uganda has already begun preparations for the celebration of the Golden Anniversary of the canonization with a diocesan conference on the 22 saints.
Although Pope Francis has previously spoken about visiting the African continent, today’s confirmation from the Vatican makes it official.
In the June meeting with priests, Pope Francis also addressed pastoral concerns in Africa, noting that while there might be a shortage of priests, the presence of lay catechists is strong.
As far as the Church in Africa goes, “the backbone are the catechists. I think that the formation of lay catechists is fundamental in Africa. They are the ones who carry the Church forward,” the Pope said.
Besides the catechists, there are two other institutions which stand out in caring for the people, which are the schools and the hospitals, Francis observed.
“The tenderness, the care. Many religious sisters, many laity spend years and years and years caring for the sick with great tragedies. How many laity go there to serve as doctors in the tragedies!” he said.
Francis also praised the creative spirit present in the African liturgy, saying that behind it lay “a great spiritual experience.”
However, he also touched on various challenges Africans face such as terrorism and the exploitation of the land, which he spoke of in his recent encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si.”
Right now in Africa there is “a serious problem of the ideological wars” led by groups such as Boko Haram that needs to be addressed, he said, noting that the continent has also become “a place of despoilment.”
“I say this with all respect and with a lot of love: Africa is an attractive place to despoil… (there is) the ability to go there in search of wood, gold or metals, and ravage and leave,” the Pope explained.
Pope Francis stressed the need to solve social and developmental problems so that people no longer need to travel to Europe in search of a better life.
“This is an emergency. What is needed is that Europe goes there to Africa not to take things out of Africa, but to invest in Africa so that Africa has industry, work, and the people don't need to come here. This is the more social work,” he said.
“Europe has been very generous with Africa in terms of what's Catholic. Today the world isn't generous with Africa because they exploit it. They treat it as a land of exploitation.”