One million people hear Pope Francis’ Madagascar mass

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Pope Francis arrives to attend a meeting with the Bishops of Madagascar in the Andohalo Cathedral in Antananarivo, Madagascar, on September 7, 2019. (AFP / Mamyrael)
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Bishops of Madagascar arrives to attend a meeting with the Pope in the Andohalo Cathedral in Antananarivo, Madagascar, on September 7, 2019. (AFP / Mamyrael)
Updated 09 September 2019

One million people hear Pope Francis’ Madagascar mass

  • The Catholic primate's three-nation tour started in Mozambique and will end in the island of Mauritius
  • The last pope to visit Madagascar was John Paul II 30 years ago

ANTANANARIVO: An estimated one million people gathered at Madagascar’s Soamandrakizay stadium in the capital on Sunday to hear Pope Francis say mass on the second leg of his three-nation African tour.

The massive crowd had waited patiently, stretching into the distance from the early hours, to see the pope, the first pontiff to visit in 30 years.

“Organizers estimate there are around one million people,” a Vatican spokesman said.

Organizers had said earlier they expected around one million attendees. Some described it as the biggest public gathering in Madagascar’s history.

Many people wore pope-emblazoned white and yellow caps — the colors of the Vatican, and they cheered as the pope-mobile made its way through wind-swept clouds of red dust picked up from the stadium floor.

During the homily, the Argentine pontiff urged them “to build history in fraternity and solidarity” and “in complete respect for the earth and its gifts, as opposed to any form of exploitation.”

He spoke out against “practices that lead to the culture of privilege and exclusion” and criticized those who consider family “the decisive criterion for what we consider right and good.”

“How hard it is to follow him (Jesus) if we seek to identify the kingdom of heaven with our personal agenda or ... abuse the name of God or of religion to justify acts of violence, segregation and even murder.”

After mass the pontiff will visit Akamasoa, a city founded by Argentinian priest Father Pedro, who has lifted thousands of Malagasy waste-pickers out of poverty.

Early Sunday morning, in Antananarivo’s Andravoahangy church, pastor Jean-Yves Ravoajanahary had briefed 5,000 people on the two-hour trek they would have to make to get to Soamandrakizay stadium.

“We are going to divide worshippers into groups of 1,000 because the road is very dangerous. At this time pickpockets and bandits are out to mug people,” he said.

One by one the groups started the journey, huddled together in the cold and singing praise to the Virgin Mary. Traffic was gridlocked.

Hery Saholimanana left his house in the early hours with three family members.

“I’m afraid of arriving after the 6:00 o’clock entry limit,” said the 23-year old IT student, walking briskly.

Rado Niaina, 29, said he left even earlier, at 2:00 am, for fear “of not finding space.”

Many had already set up tents on the outskirts of the city on Friday, festooned with posters of the pontiff.

Prospere Ralitason, a 70-year-old farm worker, arrived with some 5,000 fellow pilgrims from the central eastern town of Ambatondrazaka, 200 kilometers (125 miles) away.

“We are tired, but it’s worth making all these sacrifices to see the pope with our own eyes and receive his blessing,” he said.

Thousands of young people — mainly scouts — gathered for a vigil at Soamandrakizay on Saturday, waiting hours in the heat for Francis to arrive.

“I am here to ask for the pope’s blessing to face the harsh realities of life, insecurity, poverty and corruption,” said 17-year old student Njara Raherimana.

“All this gives me hope for change in my country,” echoed fellow student, Antony Christian Tovonalintsoa, who lives on the outskirts of the capital.

During the vigil, Pope Francis lauded the “joy and enthusiasm” of the singing crowd.

He encouraged the youth not to fall into “bitterness” or to lose hope, even when they lacked the “necessary minimum” to get by and when “educational opportunities were insufficient.”

Earlier on Saturday, Francis made an impassioned plea to Madagascans to protect the Indian Ocean’s unique environment from “excessive deforestation.”

Weeks after a spike in fires in the Amazon, the Argentine pontiff told his hosts they should “create jobs and money-making activities which respect the environment and help people escape poverty.”

Madagascar — famed for its immense diversity of flora and fauna — is home to 25 million people, the vast majority of whom live in poverty on an income of less than two dollars a day.

More than half of its young people are out of work, even if many have good qualifications.

The last pope to visit Madagascar was John Paul II 30 years ago.

Francis also visited Mozambique earlier in the week, and is due to travel to the island of Mauritius on Monday.


Leading Hong Kong activists charged for Tiananmen vigil gathering

Updated 45 min 49 sec ago

Leading Hong Kong activists charged for Tiananmen vigil gathering

  • Hong Kongers defied a ban on rallies to mark the June 4 anniversary of Beijing’s deadly 1989 crackdown
  • China’s leaders have rejected calls to give Hong Kongers universal suffrage

HONG KONG: Thirteen prominent Hong Kong democracy activists appeared in court on Monday charged with holding an unauthorized gathering to mark the Tiananmen Square crackdown, the latest in a string of prosecutions against protest leaders in the restless financial hub.
Last month tens of thousands of Hong Kongers defied a ban on rallies to mark the June 4 anniversary of Beijing’s deadly 1989 crackdown against students pushing for democracy.
The annual vigil has been held in Hong Kong for the last three decades and usually attracts huge crowds. It has taken on particular significance in recent years as the semi-autonomous city chafes under Beijing’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
This year’s vigil was banned for the first time with authorities citing coronavirus measures. At the time local transmission had largely been halted.
But thousands turned out to hold candles in their neighborhoods and in Victoria Park, the traditional site of the vigil.
Police later arrested 13 leading activists who appeared at the Victoria Park vigil.
All appeared in court on Monday to be formally charged with “inciting” an unlawful assembly, which carries up to five years in jail.
Among them are Jimmy Lai, the millionaire owner of the openly pro-democracy Apple newspaper, veteran democracy activists such as Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho as well as young campaigner Figo Chan.
When asked if he understood the charge, Lee invoked the hundreds who were killed by Chinese tanks and soldiers at Tiananmen.
“This is political persecution,” he said. “The real incitement is the massacre conducted by the Chinese Communist Party 31 years ago.”
Some of those charged on Monday — and many other leading democracy figures — face separate prosecutions related to last year’s huge and often violent pro-democracy protests.
China’s leaders have rejected calls to give Hong Kongers universal suffrage and portrayed the protests as a plot by foreigners to destabilize the motherland.
Earlier this month Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law aimed at stamping out the protests once and for all.
The law targets subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign collusion, with sentences including life in prison.
But its broad phrasing — such as a ban on encouraging hatred toward China’s government — has sent fear rippling through a city used to being able to speak its mind.
Police have arrested people for possessing pro-independence or autonomy material, libraries and schools have pulled books, political parties have disbanded and one prominent opposition politician has fled.
The law bypassed Hong Kong’s legislature and its contents were kept secret until the moment it was enacted.
It empowered China’s security apparatus to set up shop openly in Hong Kong for the first time, while Beijing has also claimed jurisdiction for some serious national security cases — ending the legal firewall between the mainland the city’s independent judiciary.
China has also announced global jurisdiction to pursue national security crimes committed by anyone outside of Hong Kong and China, including foreigners.