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Visite of Pope Francis - Jesuits of North-West Africa Province | Society of Jesus

Gratitude Magazine March 2015 Edition

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-Tersoo GWAZA

In the gospel of John, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me” (Jn 10:14). The question is who is a shepherd? Another question follows, why is Jesus referring to himself as the good shepherd?  Apparently, the concept of a shepherd was common during the time of Jesus. Jesus uses the symbol of a shepherd to address the Pharisees hekima Janwho excommunicated the blind man that Jesus cured on the Sabbath in the previous chapter (Jn 9:1ff). He however refers to himself as the “Good shepherd” because during his public ministry, the blind regained their sight, the lame walked, the lepers were cleansed, the hungry were fed, and the dead were raised back to life.  This is what a shepherd does to the sheep. However, above all, Jesus went further to offer his life for the sheep. This heroic act automatically qualifies him as the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (Jn 10:11).
Now, the key question is how could we become “good” shepherds to the sheep in our global village that is characterized by materialism and secularism?  Actually, materialism and secularism have become the greatest “wolves” among the sheep. Many of the sheep are lost because of their insatiable appetite for material wealth. Some sheep have gone astray and lost their faith in God because of secularism. Many of the flocks are injured because of globalization – the survival of the fittest and the mighty. Other sheep are sick because of poverty, injustices, illiteracy – poverty of the mind, tribalism/division, violence, anarchy, just to mention but a few.

To answer the question, on the 25 November 2015, the successor of St. Peter whom Jesus handed over the sheep unto his care, who happens to be our Jesuit companion and our shepherd, Pope Francis landed in Africa, to be precise, Nairobi, Kenya. Before His Holiness left Italy, the journalists asked him a pensive question regarding the insecurity in Kenya, Uganda, and Central Africa Republic, which were his destinations to do what Jesus himself would have done, that is to visit the troubled sheep. Pope Francis response was rather shocking to them and many others. He said, “I am afraid of the tiny insects, the mosquitoes in Africa, but I am not afraid of the insecurity.” His response was indeed a sign of a true shepherd who will not allow wolves and bandits in shells of insecurity to prevent him from getting to know the sheep by names and to “smell like the sheep”.  

From the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport the pope was driven in a very small car to the State House in Nairobi to address the government officials. Many of us were moved by his humility and simplicity of his choice of a small car. Moreover, one would expect him to visit Africa with a private jet, given the fact that in Africa, some pastors own two to three private jets. On the contrary, he came with the Italian air. Some people, particularly non-Catholics wondered why the shepherd of over two billion followers could not have a private jet. He is a shepherd who wants to experience what his sheep experience. He wants to be with them. His message to the Kenyan government was that of peace, unity, transparency, accountability, fight against corruption, poverty, respect for human right and dignity, care for Mother Earth, and many more.

hekima jan1On 26 November 2015, His Holiness celebrated Mass at the University of Nairobi grounds. Hundreds of thousands of the faithful attended the Mass. Christians from different denomination and non-Christians also attended. His homily was about Christian unity. At the end of the liturgical celebration, the Pope presented a gift of chalice to his eminence John Cardinal Njuwe, the archbishop of Nairobi. Surprisingly, there were no monetary offerings except the symbolic gifts and of course, the bread, and wine.   After Mass, the pope met with priests and religious men and women. He encouraged them to be faithful to their calling and lead by example. Earlier on in the morning, he had met with Christian leaders from various denominations and other religious groups. Again, his message was peace, unity, and harmony. The following day, Pope Francis visited St. Joseph the worker parish (a Jesuit run parish), in the slum of Kangemi. He loves the poor and the less privileged and I witnessed to that on that particular day. His message was consoling and life giving to the poor. He touched and blessed the poor, the disabled, and many others. Some of us were blessed to have a handshake from him and the Jesuits in attendance took also a group photo with him.  

His was an indication of a shepherd who mingles with the sheep and leads them to find greener pasture in God’s kingdom. He left Kangemi and met with hundred thousands of the youths across Kenya at Safaricom stadium, in Kasarani. His message to the youths was about hope. He encouraged them to resist tribalism and corruption. He said corruption is like eating sugar. It is sweet, but at the end, either the individuals or the nation would suffer diabetic. It leads to insecurity, lack of infrastructures, unemployment, and thus paralyzes the nation as it is happening in many parts of Africa. The pope held hands with the youths, those who were close to him, and asked the Kenyan President, and top government officials including the opposition leaders, and all who were present at the stadium to do the same as a sign of unity for all Kenyans. It is vital to note that Pope’s message was not limited to Christians, but to all Africans. It was indeed a grace-filled encounter with our shepherd who knows his sheep by name. The sheep also know him because he smells like his sheep. The lost sheep are gradually returning to the sheepfold. It is not surprising that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the Nigerian writer once said, “Pope Francis has brought me back to the Catholic Church.” The wounded, he has bandaged. The astray, he has shown them the way back home. He has given hope to the hopeless. His blessings and handshakes brought healing to many. His simplicity and humility won the hearts of some who were carried away by materialism. This is precisely what Jesus would have done in Kenya and Africa if Jesus were to be physically present with us today.

hekima jan2

The Jesuit community at Hekima printed T-shirts with the photo of Pope Francis on it and distributed to all Jesuits and collaborators to mark this historical event. A big banner was placed outside of Hekima University College to welcome His Holiness to Kenya. Small pamphlets were also printed and shared among many at Kangemi parish, particularly those who do not know much about Pope Francis and the Jesuits. We planted a tree at Hekima also to mark the visit. What can we learn from our shepherd, Pope Francis? The first lesson for me is detachment from material things. The spirit of indifference to material things exhibited by Pope Francis reminds me of our father founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola. His great humility and simplicity undoubtedly wins him the title “The Peoples Pope.” When I think of Pope Francis’ visits to Africa, his message of peace, unity, and the spirit of dialogue as he removed his shoes and entered the Mosque in Central Africa Republic, I remember Francis Xavier in India. When Pope says Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters, I see great hope for religious tolerance and dialogue that Vatican Council II advocates for. When I think of Pope Francis love and care for the poor and the less privileged, his visit to the refugee camp in Central Africa Republic, he reminds me of St. Peter Claver who became a slave of the slaves.

May Sts. Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier, and Peter Claver continue to intercede for Pope Francis and indeed to each one of us so that we too may become true shepherds who would know our sheep by their names and the sheep would recognize our voice. May we have the grace to smell like the sheep that are entrusted to our care by the good shepherd Jesus Christ who did not only smell like the sheep but willingly lays down his life for the sheep.
Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year in advance!


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