01 September 2015, The Tablet

Interview with Bishop Muheria ahead of Pope Francis visit to Africa

In November, Pope Francis will visit Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic in his first visit papal to Africa. This visit is highly anticipated in the continent where the number of Catholics and Christians are on the rise. 

Fredrick Nzwili interviewed Bishop Anthony Muheria of Kitui diocese in Eastern Kenya on why the visit is being greeted with much expectation and joy

1) How important is this visit to the Catholic Church in East and Central Africa?

The visit of the Holy Father, being the first one to Africa, is very important. On the one hand he is coming on the occasion of the celebration of the centenary of the canonization of the Ugandan Martyrs. The Ugandan Martyrs have become a reference point for the Church in Africa for their single-mindedness and heroism in their faith, in the middle of a very difficult cultural context. The visit of Blessed Pope Paul VI, the first Pope to come to Africa, in order to canonize these saints marked that the Church in Africa had become of age. They evoke and confirm the sentiments that, a "young faith" in terms of time of evangelization, and even personal age, are not a hindrance to maturity of witness, even unto death.

The Holy Father's visit then would come to confirm this "young faith" in Africa, and open great avenues of Hope. It will be a great boost to the faith of the Church in Africa, as was the case with the visits of St. John Paul II. We know Africa is the Hope of the Church, and that hope needs to be nurtured.

We are indeed excited about Pope Francis's visit.

2) What issues would you like Pope Francis address while on his visit in East Africa?

Pope Francis already has a very strong message, which he will for sure reiterate during his visit: the concern that Christians be coherent and consequent in their personal and social life; the practical living of Charity and Mercy. This we need to hear even more in Africa, in an environment heavily marked by corruption and huge inequalities. This, even when the leaders are apparently "good Christians". Governments and the leaders themselves in Africa, need to take on the plight of the huge percentage of poor and marginalised, and make policies that favour the improvement of their lives and welfare. The Church in Africa also needs to hear this, so that we can be more engaged to hold not only the governments and institutions accountable, but also urge the individuals working in them to be also accountable to God.

Besides the social issues, we look forward to being challenged about deepening our faith knowledge, to be encouraged in the care for those suffering the current ills of HIV, accompanying and caring for families of victims of terrorism and in commitment in formation of young people in schools and institutions, and general human formation. The Church in Africa has now come of age and I would not be surprised that the Holy Father encourages us to be more missionary, especially in the year we are celebrating the Vatican II document.

3. The family in Africa is facing major challenges from the 'globalisation of culture'. What should the church in East Africa expect to hear from Pope Francis on this important issue?

No doubt Africa is the continent of the family. The very first synod on the Church in Africa, highlighted this characteristic, and offered it as the great contribution of to the Universal Church. The idea of understanding the Church as a family was offered. The sense of family, from our African culture, is one of the gems that purified, adorned our mother Church. In the context of the current crisis on the family the world over, but especially in the western culture, we hope the Holy Father can draw from the wealth of our African culture, and from how we live our faith in face of real cultural family difficulties, so as to help heal the ills and threats to the family in the globalised culture.

We would wish to be affirmed by the Holy Father in the efforts to uphold the African values, and the sense of brotherhood that is still very much alive in Africa. With the very "individualistic" and "private" lifestyles being proposed from the western digital culture, there is a danger that we too lose this great value of solidarity that goes even beyond the family.

4. Terrorism or Islamic extremism is another challenge facing the region at the moment. Do you think he should concern himself with this issue?

The issue of radicalisation and targeting of Christians by terrorists is in the back of the mind of everyone. It would be therefore a great thing for the Holy Father to confirm to Christians theior faith in the face of real threats. The role of Peter is to confirm all in the faith, and we surely need that affirmation and encouragement to continue to be heroic in our witness. At the same time the care of the young people is central, and we would welcome his ideas and challenges especially to the youth who are too easily swayed into "death traps" of radicalisation. Finally in view of the many suffering families from the attacks, his message of mercy and forgiveness, and ways of sustaining meaningful dialogue with other religions would assist us a lot.

5. What about Climate Change?

The Holy Father's upcoming encyclical is also of great relevance. Africa experiences and has historically experienced the biggest effects of the damage to the environment. The worst famines are in Africa, many children and even adults have lost their lives out of hunger and thirst in the last half century. The thirst for Christ that we seek to quench, must also be accompanied by satisfying the human thirst for water, and hunger for real food. At the same time some of the most attractive displays of nature are in Africa, and these must be protected and valued as God's creation.


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