, ROME, Italy, Dec 1 – His trip to Africa was touted as dangerous, the riskiest ever, but Pope Francis says it was one filled with surprises.
The Pope – who returned to the Vatican on Monday night from the Central African Republic – spoke fondly about the people he met on the continent; the crowds, the joy, the celebrations.
“For me Africa was a surprise. God surprises us sometimes and Africa surprised us too,” Pope Francis said in response to a question by Capital FM News aboard the Papal Flight to Ciampino – Aeroporti di Roma.
He said the people of Africa “felt visited and have a great sense of welcoming.”
“Every nation of course has its own identity; Kenya is more modern, Uganda has its identity with the Martyrs and I went to both shrines – the Anglican and Catholic.”
He also recalled seeing the desire for peace in the Central African Republic, forgiveness and reconciliation.
“Today I prayed in the mosque and the Imam rode with me on the popemobile in my tour of the stadium (where he celebrated his last mass on his Africa tour)… those are little treasurers.”
He said he saw a spirited will to foster peace – not hatred – and hoped the people of CAR will hold elections that can propel the nation to prosperity.
Asked whether he planned to visit Africa again anytime soon, Pope Francis responded by saying he is an old man “and these trips are heavy business.”
He nonetheless indicated that his next overseas trip will be to Mexico.
Pope Francis who responded to a wide range of issues on the flight back to Rome said it was “now or never” for the world community to hammer out a deal on climate change, warning the situation was “borderline suicide”.
“It’s now or never,” the Argentine said as the heads of more than 150 nations kicked off 12 days of talks in the French capital to negotiate a deal to roll back global warming.
Since the Kyoto Protocol on climate change was adopted in 1997, “little has been accomplished” and “every year the problems get more serious,” he told journalists at a press conference on the papal plane during his return from a trip to Africa.
Sometimes it appears, “to use a strong word, that the situation is borderline suicide”, he said.
“Almost everyone at the Paris talks wants a deal to be done. I am confident they will do it,” he said.
The pope is a fierce defender of the environment, publishing a hard-hitting thesis on the topic this year and laying the blame for global warming squarely on man’s shoulders.
Climate change fuels poverty, migration, sickness and war, he says, and fossil fuels should be abandoned in an energy revolution paid for largely by developed countries.
The Vatican is being represented at the opening of the COP21 talks by its secretary of state Pietro Parolin, the Holy See’s number two.
The negotiations, taking place under the banner of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, are due to wrap up on December 11.
A deal is far from guaranteed: potential stumbling blocks range from providing finance for climate-vulnerable and poor countries to scrutiny of commitments to curb greenhouse gases and even the legal status of the accord.