ANTANARIVO, Sept 8 (NNN-AGENCIES) — Pope Francis made an impassioned plea to Madagascans to protect the Indian Ocean’s unique environment from “excessive deforestation”, on the second leg of his African tour.
Weeks after a spike of 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 boast good qualifications.
The pope said there “were many causes driving excessive deforestation which benefits just a few people … and compromises the future of the country.”
The authorities should also ensure social justice, he added.
Madagascar’s economy is largely dependent on agriculture, the export of vanilla and cocoa in particular.
Liberal-leaning president Andry Rajoelina was elected to a second term last year mainly on promises of jobs and housing.
“Corruption and inequality outrage us,” said Archbishop Desire Tsarahazana, addressing the pope in his welcome speech.
At Antananarivo’s Soamandrakizay stadium, thousands of young people – mainly scouts – gathered for a vigil. They waited for hours in the heat.
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”.
Sunday will mark the high point of Francis’ visit with a huge mass in the capital expected to be attended by some 800,000 faithful.
Many had already started setting up tents on the outskirts of the city on Friday, armed with posters of the Argentine pontiff.
The last pope to visit was John Paul II 30 years ago.
Some 700 police officers will be deployed at the site, which is also equipped with 200 surveillance cameras and the 12,000 young scouts will also help out.
Francis visited Mozambique earlier in the week. He is also due to travel to the island of Mauritius, which like Madagascar is situated off the eastern coast of Africa. — NNN-AGENCIES