The pastoral visit of Pope Francis to the small Indian Ocean Island of Mauritius on Monday, has been acclaimed as a unifying factor in a country where citizens trace their backgrounds to a variety of territories, horizons, civilizations, cultures including language and religion, among other distinguishing factors.
“For me personally, this is a big event,” Sarvesh Bhugowandeen, a Mauritian told ACI Africa in Port Louis referring to the visit of Pope Francis and clarified, “The Pope is a Catholic. I am a Hindu. But Pope Francis is a man of all people.”
“We are one family of Mauritius Island and the Pope is coming to visit this family, be it Catholic, Hindu, or whatever the religion, he is coming as a father of us all,” Bhugowandeen who reports for a local radio station shared.
“The coming of Pope Francis has united us in one purpose, we are all doing something to prepare for his coming,” he concluded.
Hinduism being the major religion in Mauritius, about half of the 1.265 million Mauritians are Hindus. Majority of the 32.7 percent Christian population is Catholic, representing just over a quarter of Mauritians.
Other religions in Mauritius include Muslims estimated to be 17.3 percent of the population and Buddhists whose population is estimated at below one percentage point.
In his speeches to various groups and delegations during his day-long visit of Mauritius, the Holy Father did acknowledge the diversity of Mauritians, and went on to appreciate the presence of the neighboring island nations that were represented in Port Louis.
Some 3,000 citizens of Reunion Island were among the estimated 100,000 people who were part of the Public Papal Mass in Port Louis.
“I thank all the people of God present here, in particular, those from Seychelles, Comoros, Rodrigues, and Mauritius Island,” Pope Francis said at the end of the public Mass celebrated at the Shrine of Marie Reine de la Paix in Port Louis.
The preparations for the Mass considered the diversity of the country, the liturgical coordinator of the event, Fr. Jean Claude Veder told ACI Africa.
“We selected songs for the Mass paying attention to the cultural and linguistic diversity of the people of Mauritius, Fr Veder said and disclosed, “The choir is made up of about 20 members from each of the parishes in Port Louis diocese and a total of 200 people who have been rehearsing every Sunday for the last three months.”
“We have songs in Creole, which is our main language here in Mauritius, the readings will also be in Creole,” he said and added that the Tamil language will also feature as well as “Spanish, which has been chosen as a way of saying hello to Pope Francis in his native language, and then some songs in English and French.”
“We really wanted that the Mass reflects this diversity that characterizes Mauritius,” Fr. Veder emphasized and added, “Everyone in Mauritius is talking about this visit and for the Mass, not only Catholic (were) present.”
“Everybody has been here: Muslims, Hindus, all,” Fr. Veder who is a diocesan priest for Port Louis diocese said and remarked about Pope Francis, “He seems to touch the hearts of all people in Mauritius.”
“We feel blessed to be part of the universal Church,” Fr. Verde concluded.
Giovanni Jean Pierre, a parishioner at St. Louis Cathedral of Port Louis diocese reconfirmed the diversity of her compatriots saying, “We live among different ethnic groups and sometimes there are clashes, there are conflicts.”
“The Pope has brought us a message of peace,” Ms. Giovanni told ACI Africa and added, “Pope Francis has challenged us to build and maintain better relationships among ourselves in the example of Pere Laval.”
In his homily in Port Louis, Pope Francis challenged the congregation to carry forward the unconditional love, which Blessed Father Laval, described as the “Apostle of Mauritius” started in their midst.
“(Mauritius) is an Island with people from different origins, people of different colors, so it is very important to know that these different people can live in harmony,” Fr. Rose Guy, a Mauritian serving in France told ACI Africa and added, “Pope Francis has brought to Mauritians the message to continue living together.”
“This is a very for everybody, not only Catholics,” Fr. Guy who is the Chaplain of Mauritians in France emphasized the impact of the visit of Pope Francis in cementing unity in society.
He continued, “We have Muslims and, in my family, we have Hindus. And the other day my brother said to me, the Pope is coming here not only for Catholics, he is coming for everybody, and I said, this is so true.”
Fr. Guy who belongs to the congregation of St. Victor of the order of St. Augustine appreciated Pope’s invitation to emulate Pere Laval saying, “Pere Laval who came here just after the slavery, when he arrived in Mauritius, welcomed everybody, not just Catholics, even non-Catholics.”
“That’s why we say here that Pere Laval, the Apostle of unity, because Pere Laval welcomed everybody,” Fr. Guy who has been a priest for 44 years concluded.
Pope Francis concluded his six-day pastoral visit of Africa with Mauritius and is expected to return to Rome Tuesday from Madagascar.