Engage Your History, “keep your roots intact”: Pope Francis to African Catholic Students

Pope Francis during the virtual dialogue with African Catholic students on Tuesday, November 1. Credit: PACTPAN

Pope Francis has encouraged the youths in Africa to engage and come to terms with their history however “harsh” it is, and urged them never to forget their roots even as they seek engagements outside the continent.

Speaking during a virtual dialogue, which brought on board Catholic youths from universities on the continent on Tuesday, November 1, the Holy Father reminded the young Africans to always remember their past, to always dream, and to always live in the present, “with a firm grip on reality”.

“I believe you have values, so, please continue to be engaged without ever forgetting that you have to keep your roots intact,” Pope Francis said, adding, “You should remember your past. You were not born under a tree; you were born with a history. Look into your roots, your people, your culture.”

The Holy Father acknowledged the suffering that Africans have undergone, noting that some have “built their history on blood”, and urged participants in the Synodal conversation that is part of the ongoing preparations for the Synod on Synodality never to discard their “story”, however harsh it was.

“All of you here have a story; all of your peoples have a history. We have to be able to respect this history and to bring it forward. History isn’t always a pleasant story. History can be very harsh. There are people who have built their history on blood, and many of you belong to those people. Therefore, I urge you to take the history of your people on yourself,” he said.


The initiative of the Pan-African Catholic Theology and Pastoral Network (PACTPAN) that was held on the Solemnity of All Saints’ Day brought together students from 34 universities; they were drawn from nine African countries. These were the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Congo Brazzaville, Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Ivory Coast.

Nine students were selected to share the experiences of the youth on the continent in the virtual conversation with the Holy Father. The Synodal conversations were aimed at inspiring the youths to be engaged fully in the “life of the Church and society”.

The students had various talking points on faith and spirituality, the African philosophy of Ubuntu, which emphasizes that “I am because we are”, as well as the aspect of human solidarity.

The interaction was pegged on the three steps of the Synod on Synodality: listening, discernment and action, with rootedness in the Holy Spirit.

Expressing his excitement in his closing remarks during the November 1 virtual interaction, Pope Francis said, “I am very glad to have had this meeting with you. I was impressed by all of your remarks.”

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He added, “This meeting is to build bridges which can unite us and allow us to listen to one another. Listening is difficult. Speaking isn’t difficult but listening is certainly difficult.”

The Holy Father emphasized the need for African youth to unite in the Spirit of Ubuntu, saying, “You are the tree… You are the roots. Therefore, the stronger you are, the stronger your roots are. But we don’t want your roots to be individual; we want you to be united so that your roots can turn into a tree, which in turn can bear fruits.”

He expressed regret that for years, Africa has been exploited and denied the opportunity to grow, and challenged the young people on the continent to accept their pasts while looking to grow their continent.

“All of us were born like something small, but then of course, we can become mature if we accept the burden of history; the good and bad part of history; the joyful part and the tough part of history,” Pope Francis said.

He continued, “You all are familiar with the tough part of your history. You all are familiar with the exploitation, the slavery. You know what it means to exploit Africa, without allowing it to grow. You all are part of this very harsh history and you just have to learn to accept it.”


“Allow me to express my appreciation of your culture and your history. Perhaps the term that I could use to understand this is Ubuntu, which belongs to your culture, an encounter that can lead us forward,” the Holy Father said.

He added, “The term Ubuntu should remind you that you Africans are your own masters. You are your own missionaries. Run forward!”

“Africa isn’t meant to be exploited. Africa isn’t meant to be seen as a subculture; it has its own wealth, not just its many natural resources, not just its many beauties; it has its human beings and you young Africans have to appreciate the wealth that you are,” the Holy Father said. 

Pope Francis also encouraged young people in Africa to reconcile their past, the present, with hope for a better future, saying, “Live in the present, with a firm grip on reality, and try not to be alienated. Keep a firm view on the real present.”

He added, “Don’t stop dreaming because whenever young people stop dreaming, that’s when the world stops. You were born to dream. You were born to be prophets of the future, and therefore, I urge you to look to your past, to look to your roots, to look to your personal history. Struggle in the present consistently with the view to the future.”

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“I ask you to pray for me and may the Virgin Mary take care of you,” the Holy Father said during the November 1 virtual dialogue event that PACTPAN organized.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.