The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin made the case for peace and reconciliation during his visit to Côte d’Ivoire.
Speaking on May 6 during separate meetings with Ivorian Prime Minister, Patrick Achi, and the country’s President, Alassane Ouattara, the Vatican diplomat said his visit was a mark of the excellent diplomatic ties between the Holy See and the West African country.
“This visit is a sign of the excellent relations that exist between the Holy See and Côte d’Ivoire,” explained Cardinal Parolin.
“It is also an opportunity to encourage your country for all the efforts it is making and continues to make for the consolidation of peace, reconciliation and development, not only in Côte d’Ivoire but also in the sub-region, which has experienced many troubles and difficult situations,” he explained.
Côte d’Ivoire has experienced political turmoil, the latest coming in the wake of the October 31, 2020, presidential election in which at least 50 people were killed. And this came a decade after the 2010-2011 post-election violence triggered the deaths of at least 3000 people.
Last year, President Alassane Ouattara made a gesture at reconciliation by allowing former President Laurent Gbagbo who had gone into exile after the 2010-2011 post-election violence to return home.
But even as the West African nation works to restore peace, its neighbours are not at ease. Mali, it’s neighbour to the north, is in turmoil. Burkina Faso to the Northeast is still reeling from a recent coup d’état and in Guinea to the West; a transitional Council that came to power after overthrowing President Alpha Conde is at odds with the United Nations and regional institutions for prolonging the period of its announced transition to civilian rule.
Cardinal Parolin charged Ivorian leaders not only to work for peace in their country but also to include their neighbours in the efforts for peace and reconciliation.
Parolin emphasized that reconciliation, cohesion, and development were “very important themes for the Holy See because its diplomacy exists for this purpose.”
Ivorian President, Alassane Ouattara seemed to take up the challenge.
“We exchanged views on the progress made in Côte d’Ivoire, which has made it possible to consolidate peace. We also spoke about the difficulties of some neighbouring countries and (…) the need to move forward with neighbouring countries to find peace and reduce the suffering of the people…” said Ouattara at the end of the audience with Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
Political, civil, diplomatic as well as the entire Christian Community in Côte d’Ivoire -both clerics and laity have all been expressing joy at the visit of the top Vatican diplomat.
The President of the country’s Bishops’ Conference, Ignace Bessi Dogbo said “welcoming the Holy Father’s representative to our country is a sign of great trust and closeness to the Church in Côte d’Ivoire. We are very happy to welcome him.”
Mgr. Jean-Sylvain Mambé, whom Parolin ordained on May 7 as Apostolic Nuncio to Mali described the visit as “historic.”
“The visit of Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of His Holiness Pope Francis, to Côte d’Ivoire is also a historic event. He wanted to be there personally for my episcopal ordination and also to honour an appointment in Côte d’Ivoire for the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of diplomatic relations between Côte d’Ivoire and the Holy See. This trip had been cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic. This trip should therefore be seen as a sign of the importance that the Vatican attaches to Côte d’Ivoire,” he said.
In essence, Mgr. Jean-Sylvain Mambé is the first cleric from Côte d’Ivoire to be ordained Apostolic Nuncio. Parolin said the episcopal consecration was “a special moment of joy” for the people of Côte d’Ivoire.
“A son of your land is chosen for the episcopate and sent to represent the Pope in other nations and Churches”, Cardinal Parolin said in his homily on May 7, at the Our Lady of Peace Basilica in Yamoussoukro.
He said Mgr. Jean-Sylvain Mambé was engaging in “a path of prudence and audacity, of prayer and expectation, of apostolic zeal and total abandonment to God’s own plan.”
“What must be emphasized is that the project is not ours but God’s. The bishop is a servant of God. The bishop is a servant of God’s plan and, precisely for this reason, a servant of the Church,” the Vatican diplomat said.
Talking specifically about Mgr. Mambé’s mission in Mali- a country blighted by political crises and terrorist attacks, Parolin said “the main task of the Pontifical Representative will be to do everything possible to defend religious freedom, rejecting any discrimination on ethnic or religious grounds and encouraging dialogue to achieve concord and peace.”
Parolin spoke about the work of priests, tasking them to be the good shepherds “commissioned by God to guide and protect” His flock.
“His (shepherd’s) voice is the voice of the Father. His word is the Word of God. His style is the style of God. Christ presents himself as the true shepherd, the one who watches over His flock “day and night”, maintains “a relationship of trust and love”, “an intimate and profound relationship” with his sheep,” said the Vatican’s number two personality.
“We should not be afraid, we feel safe, in the Church, and never alone because Jesus is always with us,” Parolin told Ivorian Christians.
Cardinal Parolin cautioned against such ills as jealousy, gossip and envy which can lead the people of God to “look at each other like dogs rather than as brothers and sisters, called to be witnesses of the Risen One and to be led only by him. On the contrary, they must pray to the good shepherd so that he may continue to call shepherds according to his heart in the various states of life.”