The blessing of Pope Francis unexpectedly reaches the citizens of Mariapolis Victoria, a small oasis of peace in the city of Man, Ivory Coast as it celebrates its Silver Anniversary. It arrived with a thank you for the work of evangelisation that has been carried out in that place.” Francis invited them to “persevere with courage in the service of unity and concord among people,” and to continue “along the path of an ever-more universal fraternity.
This place is dotted with episodes of fraternity, beginning from the civil war of 2002-2003 when the locals decided to stay. Also the European focolarini, even though the local authorities urged foreigners to leave the country. It was a witness of loving their own to the end, of opening their doors to protect people, and 3,500 Muslims and Christians passed through those doors in those months.
These were people who risked their lives, like Salvatore, Rino, Charles, put against the wall, ready to be shot: “All you can do now is pray!” they told them. But they managed to pull it off. Now the city and the country has turned the page, even if there isn’t complete political reconcilliation.
But Mariapolis Victoria is not only an oasis of peace in times of war. It is a social laboratory. During the three-day celebration in honour of the 25th anniversary, the focus was on facts and deeds. Visits to the activities of the town were on top of the schedule: the Medical Social Centre – renovated and enlarged, with emergency services and impatient hospital, a dental clinic, a physiotherapist – the nutrition centre where the wounds of infant malnutrition are cured, and mothers are taught nutritional care; the computer centre and more and more specialized courses – along with other entrepreneurial activities like carpentry and printing.
A football tournament was held during the preparations for the 25th anniversary in the name of fraternity and fair play. On Sunday, November 19th the prizes were finally given to the winners, not only for the goals they gained, but also for the points they earned for fair play.
The placing of stele in “Universal Brotherhood Square was also quite symbolic, along with a large Cube of Peace that expresses the personal identity of the Mariapolis where love and respect for the other person tends to transfer onto every aspect of life in the little town.
Official celebrations were also held at St Mary Queen of Africa Parish, which has been entrusted to the the Focolare Movement since 1970. Present with Apostolic Nunzio Joseph Spiteri and Bishop of Man, Gaspar Bebi Gneba, there were also numerous civil authorities: Vice-Prefect of Man, Madame Djerehe Claude and ex-Minister Mabri Toikeusse, who is also president of the regional chamber of the King of the Traditional Chiefs of the Tonpki, Gué Pascal. They expressed their recognition of the Ivorian authority for the help to people during the crisis and generally for the Focolare’s efforts in favour of the vulnerable populations. Also the Italian Ambassador, Stefano Lo Savio, wanted to attend and deliver a very warm message.
Now we are looking ahead with three words to guide our steps: welcome, formation and attentiveness to the poor.
Maria Chiara De Lorenzo