Pope Francis’ recent trip to Africa was the focal point of his general audience, during which he emphasized the key role that missionaries play on the continent, and asked youth to consider it as an option for their future. “To the youth: think about what you want to do with your life. It's the moment to think and to ask the Lord to make his will known to you,” the Pope said Dec. 2. Recalling the many missionaries he met while in Africa last week, Francis pleaded with the youth that whatever they decide to do, “please, don't exclude this possibility of becoming missionaries, to bring love, humanity and faith to other countries.” The Pope spoke to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his first general audience after returning from Africa. He traveled to the continent for a Nov. 25-30 visit that took him to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic. He spoke about his experience in each country, calling Kenya a land “blessed with great human and natural resources.” The Pope addressed the U.N. headquarters while in Nairobi, Kenya’s capitol, advocating for environmental protection and the need to create sustainable, equitable and inclusive models of development. He also had strong words for the youth in creating peace and fraternity. On his visit to Uganda, “the land of the Martyrs,” Francis said he was able to encourage the Christian community there to continue in their witness of faith and charity, “and thus to be a leaven of hope for society as a whole.” The final phase of his trip, and the riskiest he has made yet, was to the Central African Republic, where he jump-started the Jubilee of Mercy by opening the first Holy Door in the cathedral of Bangui, the country’s capitol. Francis said he did this “as a sign of hope and strength” for the suffering country, as well as for all of Central Africa “and for all our brothers and sisters” on the continent. He then pointed to the special role that missionaries play on the continent, many of whom left their homeland a young age to serve others, “leading a life of much, much work, at times sleeping on the floor.” One elderly Italian sister he met in Bangui particularly stood out to the Pope. He recalled how during their brief conversation, the sister, 81, had been living in the CAR since she was 23 and had brought a child to Bangui on a canoe from the Congo. Pope Francis noted how this sister had spent her whole life there, and explained that there are many more like her. “This is how missionaries are: courageous,” he said, recalling how the same sister was a nurse before she came, and after studying there to become a midwife, has delivered some 3,280 babies. “An entire life for life, for the lives of others. And like this sister, there are many, many (others): many sisters, many priests, many religious who burn their lives to announce Jesus Christ. It's beautiful to see this.” Francis then turned to the youth, asking them to think about what they are doing in their life and what they want to do. He asked them to think about this sister and the many others like her who have given their lives in service, often passing away in their missionary assignments. To be a missionary, he said, “isn't proselytism,” and noted how the sister he met told him that Muslim women in Bangui go to them, “because they know the sisters are good nurses who heal well, and they don't do catechesis to convert them!” “They give witness; then to whoever wants, the give catechesis,” he said, explaining that this is what it means to announce Jesus with one’s life. Pope Francis closed his reflections by encouraging the youth to consider the possibility of becoming missionaries, “but not to proselytize.” Faith, he said, “is first preached with witness and then with the word. Slowly.”
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