By Melissa Butz
Early on September 9, Pope Francis flew to the island of Mauritius to begin the final, eight-hour leg of his African trip.
He was warmly welcomed by around 10 percent of the country’s population as he made his way to the Monument to Mary, Queen of Peace. It is the same place where St. John Paul II celebrated Mass 30 years ago.
Pope Francis spoke of the Beatitudes, mentioning French missionary priest, Blessed Jacques-Desire Laval, who cared for the poor slaves in the country.
“The ‘apostle of Mauritian unity,’ Blessed Jacques-Désiré Laval, so greatly venerated in these lands. Love for Christ and for the poor so marked his life that he could not conceive of an ‘aloof and sanitized’ preaching of the Gospel,” Pope Francis said.
After eating lunch with the local bishops, the pontiff went to a special shrine containing the missionary’s tomb, where the Holy Father prayed.
Immediately after, Pope Francis spoke to the Mauritian president and government authorities in his final encounter of the day.
He also visited the tomb of the “apostle of Mauritian unity,” Blessed Jacques-Désiré Laval.
He thanked them for their cultural, ethnic and religious diversity, but most of all for respecting differences.
Pope Francis encouraged the people to, likewise, honor the dignity of any migrant who is in search of a better life on their island. “Be protagonists and defenders of a true culture of encounter that enables migrants (and everyone) to be respected in their dignity and their rights,” he told them.
He also suggested a new policy to the country, which benefits economically from tourism.
“I would like to encourage you to promote an economic policy focused on people and in a position to favor a better division of income, the creation of jobs and the integral promotion of the poor,” Pope Francis said.
The country’s political leaders then accompanied the pontiff to the airport to say their goodbyes before Pope Francis returned to Madagascar.