Franciscan Sister Kathleen Murphy reflects on Pope Francis’ May prayer intention for the Christians in Africa.
It is May, the month of Our Lady. Pope Francis has asked us to pray that Christians in Africa, in imitation of the Merciful Jesus, may give prophetic witness to reconciliation, justice and peace. There is such great devotion to Mary among the peoples of Africa and are these not hallmarks of our Mother in Heaven —reconciliation, justice, and peace?
An unofficial look at apparitions of Our Lady in Africa yields a total of 32 occurrences, some of which are approved and some which have not yet been proven. Yet, this survey indicates such a reverence for Mary. She is our perfect model of mercy, of witness. On the flip side of statistics, of the 53 nations of Africa 15 are embroiled in war and this does not account for the many tribal skirmishes and terrorist uprisings that plague the continent. It seems it is time for the Queen of Peace to come to the aid of her people.
Pope Francis said, “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. She appears to us as a vessel filled to the brim with the memory of Jesus, as the Seat of Wisdom to whom we can have recourse to understand his teaching aright. Today Mary makes it possible for us to grasp the meaning of events which affect us personally, events which also affect our families, our countries and the entire world. Where philosophical reason and political negotiation cannot reach, there the power of faith, which brings the grace of Christ’s Gospel, can reach, opening ever new pathways to reason and to negotiation.” So much war and strife mars the ancient beauty of the African continent. So much tribal history keep old wounds open and festering. Let us make our prayers heartfelt as we remember these many suffering peoples.
St. Francis longed to travel to the lands of Africa to evangelize, to preach the Good News. Here, in Egypt he met with the Sultan and tried to bring an end to the 5th Crusade with all its violence. In the encounter between them, both Francis and the Sultan were changed. When Francis finally left to return to Italy, the Sultan showered him with many gifts and treasures. Because he had no interest in worldly wealth, Francis refused them all, except one special gift: an ivory horn used by the muezzin to call the faithful to prayer. On his return, Francis used it to call people for prayer or for preaching.
Francis also shared with his community his new and deep respect for his Moslem brothers and sisters, breaking down the cycle of enmity and misunderstanding that fueled the Crusades. Francis was especially struck by the Moslem five times daily prayer, and the practice of prostrations in worship of God; his letters urged Christians to adopt a similar practice: To make prayer a part of everyday life, in effect to remember God in everything you do. So, as Franciscans, we are called to lend our prayers to the cause of peace, justice and evangelization.
With Pope Francis we pray, “Blessed are you, Mary, for you gave the Son of God to our world. But even more blessed are you for having believed in him. Full of faith, you conceived Jesus first in your heart and then in your womb, and thus became the Mother of all believers. Send us your blessing. Show us the face of Jesus your Son, who bestows upon the entire world mercy and peace.”