POPE FRANCIS IN AFRICA, by Sarah-Leah Pimentel, schoenstatt.org •
Pope Francis again abandoned his prepared speech – as he sometimes does – when the events around him stir something deep within him and cause him to speak from his heart.
This was the case during the Holy Father’s meeting with the Kenyan youth on 27 November at Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi. After hearing the questions of two young people who asked him why war, fanaticism and destruction seem to happen among young people, Pope Francis answered them in his native Spanish, speaking about the need to put an end to tribalism, fight corruption at every level and reach out to other young people who feel cast aside as an antidote to recruitment into terrorist organizations.
The importance of prayer
Francis began by reminding the young people to pray because “man loses the best of his being human when he forgets to pray, because he feels omnipotent, because he doesn’t feel the need to ask for help in face of so many tragedies.” He acknowledged that all life has its difficulties but they have the “capacity to choose” whether a challenging situation becomes a difficulty or an opportunity.
Tribalism destroys a nation
He applies this capacity for choice to the situation of tribalism, which has resulted in widespread violence across Kenya, particularly during the 2009 elections, and still continues on a smaller scale today. Pope Francis says that “tribalism destroys a nation.” However, tribalism can be overcome with an open ear, an open heart and an outstretched hand “to continue the dialogue.” He also invited the young people gathered at Kasarani Stadium to “hold hands and stand up as a sign against tribalism.” Francis then encouraged them to continue to fight tribalism as “an endeavour of every day.”
Corruption is like sugar
Speaking about corruption, the Holy Father compared it to sugar, which is “like sugar, we like it, it’s easy and then we end badly.” Similarly, corruption begins with a “small envelope” that “we put into our pocket.” However, every act of corruption destroys “our heart, our personality, our homeland.” He urged the young people to resist “this sugar, which is called corruption.”
Hope and friendships as antidotes to terrorism
Pope Francis also suggested an antidote to the recruitment of young people by terrorist groups. Kenya has suffered two large attacks over the last three years at the hands of Al-Shabaab. The first was an attack at Westgate Mall in 2013 and earlier this year, terrorists opened fire on students at Garissa University, killing more than 140 people, most of them students.
The Pontiff said that young people allow themselves to be recruited when they feel that there is no hope for their future. In this regard, he spoke about the need for education and employment opportunities. Many of these conditions are created by the state, but Pope Francis explained what individual young people can do to prevent one of their peers from being recruited: “In the first place, pray, but intensely. God is stronger than any recruitment. And then speak to the youth with affection, with sympathy, with love and with patience. Invite him to see a soccer match, to go for a walk. Invite him to take part in your group, don’t leave him alone.”
The Holy Father concluded by thanking the young people for all the rosaries they had prayed for him and called everyone to pray the Our Father together.
Social media response to Pope Francis’ talk is positive
Twitter users responded enthusiastically to Francis’ encounter with the youth. Bishop Anthony tweeted: “#PopeAtKasarani #PopeInKenya What we witnessed was a covenant of the youth to reject Tribalism,Corruption & choose Love. Rebirth of a Nation”
Full text of Pope Francis’ address to the Youth at Kasarani Stadium
Thank you so much for this Rosary that you said for me. I thank you for your enthusiastic presence. Thank you, Emmanuel and Linette, for your testimonies. There is a question at the base of all the questions that the two young people have asked me: Why do divisions, fights, war, death, fanaticism, destruction happen among young people? Why is there this desire for self-destruction?
In the first page of the Bible, in all those wonderful things that God made, a brother kills another brother, and the spirit of evil leads us to destruction. And the spirit of evil leads us to disunion, to tribalism, to corruption, to dependence on drugs. It leads us to destruction because of fanaticism. Emmanuel asked: What can be done so that ideological fanaticism does not rob us of a brother, a friend?
There is a word that might seem annoying, but I don’t want to avoid it, because you said it before me. You used it when you brought me the Rosaries that you prayed for me. The Bishop also used it when he introduced you and said that you prepared yourselves for this visit with prayer. The first thing I’ll answer is that a man loses the best of his being human when he forgets to pray, because he feels omnipotent, because he doesn’t feel the need to ask for help in face of so many tragedies.
Life is full of difficulties, but there are two ways of looking at difficulties: either a person looks at them as something that blocks him, destroys him, stops him, or he looks at them as an opportunity. It is for you to choose. For me, is a difficulty a way of destruction or it is an opportunity to surmount my whole situation, that of my family, of my communities, of my country? Boys and girls, we don’t live in Heaven, we live on earth.
And the earth is full of difficulties. The earth is full not only of difficulties but of invitations to deviate to evil. However, there is something that all of you young people have that lasts a time: the capacity to choose. What way do I want to choose? Which of these two things do I want to choose? To allow myself to be defeated by the difficulty or to consider the difficulty an opportunity, with which I can win?
Some of the difficulties you named are real challenges; therefore, first a question: do you want to surmount these challenges or allow yourselves to be defeated by the challenges? Are you like sportsmen who, when they come to play here in the Stadium, want to win or are you like those who have already sold the victory to others or have put the victory in their pocket? It is for you to choose.
A challenge, of which Linette spoke, is that of tribalism. Tribalism destroys a nation. Tribalism means to hide our hands behind us and to have a stone in each hand to throw it against the other. Tribalism is overcome only by listening with the heart and with the hand – with the ears. What is your culture? Why are you like this? Why does your tribe have this habit, this custom? Does your tribe feel superior or inferior? — with the heart. Once I have heard the answer with the ears then I open my heart and stretch out my hand to continue the dialogue. If you don’t dialogue and don’t listen to one another, then there will always be tribalism as a woodworm that corrupts the society.
A Day of Prayer and Reconciliation has been declared. I would now like to invite all of you young people — Linette and Emmanuel come here –, that we all hold hands and stand up as a sign against tribalism. We are all a nation. Our heart should be like this. Tribalism is not only to raise one’s hand today. This is the desire, but it is a decision. But tribalism is a work of every day. To defeat tribalism is an endeavor of every day. An endeavor of the ear, an endeavor of the heart, of opening one’s heart to the other, and it is an endeavor of the hand: to shake hands with one another. And now shake hands among yourselves!
Another question, which Linette posed, regards corruption. I wonder: can corruption be justified? Because of the simple fact that all are sinning, that all act on the basis of corruption. How can we be Christians and combat the evil of corruption? I remember that in my homeland a youth of about 20 or 22 years old wanted to dedicate himself to politics. He studied, was enthusiastic, went from one side to another, and he found work in a Ministry. One day he had to decide what thing he should buy. And then he asked for three estimates. He examined them and chose the most economic, the most appropriate. Then he went to the boss’ office so that he would sign it. “Why did you choose this?” “Because the most appropriate one must be chosen for the country’s finances.” “No! You must choose those that give you the most to put in your pocket!” The youth answered his boss: “I came to engage in politics to help the homeland, to make it greater.” His boss answered him: “I engage in politics to steal.” This is just one example.
And this happens not only in politics, in all institutions — including in the Vatican — there are cases of corruption <everywhere>. Corruption is something that gets inside us. It’s like sugar, we like it, it’s easy and then we end badly, we come to an awful end. Because of so much sugar, we end up with diabetes or our country ends up being sick with diabetes. Every time we accept money that is extorted, that we accept a small envelope and put it in our pocket, we destroy our heart, our personality, our homeland. Please, don’t have a liking for this sugar, which is called corruption. “Father, but I see that everyone is corrupt. I see so many persons who sell themselves for a bit of money without being concerned about others’ lives. As in all things, one must begin. If you don’t want corruption in your heart, in your life, in your homeland, you must begin! If you don’t begin, neither will your neighbor. Corruption, moreover, robs us of joy; it robs us of peace. A corrupt person doesn’t live in peace. Once – and this is a historical fact — a man died in my city who we all knew was a very corrupt person. Then, a few days later, I asked how the funeral was, and a lady, who had a great sense of humor, answered me: “Father, they were unable to close the coffin because he wanted to take away all the money he had stolen.” What you steal with corruption will remain here and someone else will use it, but also – and we must really register this in our heart — men and women will also remain wounded by your example of corruption. The lack of good will remains that you could have done and didn’t do. It will remain in sick, starving children, because the money that was for them — because of your corruption — you kept for yourself. Boys and girls, corruption is not a way of life but a way of death.
And there was also a question on how to use the media to spread Christ’s message of hope and to promote correct initiatives so that a difference is seen. The first means of communication is a word, a gesture, a smile. The first gesture of communication is closeness; it is to seek friendship. If you speak well among yourselves, if you smile, if you approach one another as brothers, if you are close to each other, even if you belong to different tribes, close also to those that are in need, the abandoned, the elderly that no one visits, if you are close to them, these gestures of communication are more infectious than any television network.
Well, all these questions … I hope I’ve said something that can help. But ask Jesus, pray to the Lord to give you the strength to destroy tribalism, to all be brothers, that He give you, encourage you, not to let yourselves be corrupted. That He give you the delight of being able to communicate among yourselves as brothers, with a smile, with a good word, with a gesture of help and closeness.
Manuel also asked incisive questions. The first thing he said worries me: What can we do to impede the recruitment of persons who are dear to us? What can we do to make them come back? To answer this we must know why a youth full of illusions allows himself to be recruited, or goes to seek to be recruited, distances himself from his family, from his friends, from his tribe, from his homeland. He distances himself from life because he learns to kill. And this is a question that you must address to all the Authorities. If a youth, a boy or a girl, has no work, cannot study, what can he/she do? He can turn to delinquency or fall into a form of dependence, or commit suicide. The statistics on suicide are not published in Europe. Or he can enroll in some activity that demonstrates a goal in life but is, perhaps, seduced or deceived. The first thing we must do to avoid a youth being recruited, or that he go to be recruited, is education and work. If a youth doesn’t have work, what future is there for him? From there comes the idea to let himself be recruited. If a youth doesn’t have the possibility of receiving an education, even an emergency education, small tasks, what can he do? And the danger is there. It is a social danger that goes beyond us, beyond countries, because it depends on an international system that’s unjust, which doesn’t have the person at the center of the economy but the god of money. What can I do to help him or to make him come back?
In the first place, pray, but intensely. God is stronger than any recruitment. And then speak to <the youth> with affection, with sympathy, with love and with patience. Invite him to see a soccer match, to go for a walk. Invite him to take part in your group, don’t leave him alone. This is what now comes to my mind. There is also your second question: there are behaviours that damage; behaviours in which fleeting happiness is sought that ends up damaging you. Well then, this is a question of a Professor of Theology. How can we understand that God is our Father? How can we see the hand of God in the tragedies of life? How can we find the peace of God? Men and women of the whole world ask this question and they don’t find a reason. But there are questions that no matter how much effort one makes to think about them, one is unable to find an explanation. How can I see God’s hand in a tragedy of life? There is only one answer – no, it isn’t an answer; there is only one way: to look at the Son of God. God sent him to save all of us. God himself made himself tragedy. God himself let himself be destroyed on the cross and when the moment comes that you don’t understand, when you are desperate and the world falls on top of you, look at the cross. There is God’s failure, God’s destruction, but there also is a challenge to our faith: hope, because history didn’t end in that failure, but there was the Resurrection that renewed all.
I will share a confidence with you. It’s 12 o’clock. Are you hungry?
I always keep two things in my pocket: a Rosary, to pray and something that seems strange … what is it? It is the story of God’s failure. It’s a small Via Crucis. Just as Jesus suffered from the moment he was condemned to death to the moment he was buried. With these two things, I do my best. Thanks to these two things I don’t lose hope.
One last question of “theologian” Manuel. What words do you have for young people who have not experienced love in their own families? Is it possible to come out of this experience? There are abandoned children everywhere, either because they were abandoned at birth or because life, the family, the parents have abandoned them and they don’t feel the affection of the family.
This is why the family is so important; defend the family, defend it always. Not only are there abandoned children everywhere but also abandoned elderly who are alone, with no one visiting them; no one who loves them. How can one come out of this negative experience of estrangement and lack of love? There is only one remedy to come out of these experiences: to do what oneself has not received. If you haven’t received understanding, be understanding with others, if you haven’t received love, love others; if you have felt the pain of loneliness, approach those that are alone; flesh is healed with flesh and God became flesh to heal us. Therefore, we must do the same with others.
I think that before the referee whistles the end it’s time to finish. My heartfelt thanks to you for coming, and for allowing me to speak in my native tongue. I thank you for having prayed so many Rosaries for me. And please, I ask you to pray for me, because I also am in need of it, and much so. I count on your prayers and before going, I ask you all to stand up and to pray together to our Father in Heaven who has only one defect: He cannot stop being Father.
[Our Father …]
[This is a ZENIT translation of the transcription of the original Spanish]
Photos taken from various Twitter posts