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Update: Help the poor, protect the environment, pope says in Madagascar

Pope Francis greets the crowd before celebrating Mass at the Soamandrakizay diocesan field in Antananarivo, Madagascar, Sept. 8, 2019. PAUL HARING/CNS

By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service

9.7.2019 6:31 AM ET

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar (CNS) — In Madagascar, where the destruction of the environment and the suffering of the poor are inextricably bound, Pope Francis urged government officials to promote development projects that protect nature.

The crisis facing the island nation in the Indian Ocean is “both social and environmental,” the pope said Sept. 7 as he met President Andry Rajoelina, other government officials, diplomats serving in Madagascar and representatives of major aid and development agencies.

Immediately after making their speeches, the pope and president went outside the Ceremony Building and planted a baobab tree, a symbol of the island.

Although rich in natural resources, Madagascar is consistently ranked as one of the world’s 10 poorest countries. According to the World Bank, 75% of the population lives on less than $1.90 a day.

The country also is challenged by a frightening rate of deforestation as prized rosewood trees are cut down illegally and exported, mainly to China, and as other forest lands are cleared by poor farmers trying to eke out a living.

Phil Boyle, British ambassador to Madagascar, told reporters that perhaps as much as 500,000 acres of forests are lost each year. Without serious measures to stop the destruction of the forests and to begin planting trees, “then possibly the most unique habitat on earth will be lost.”

Pope Francis told the politicians and ambassadors, “We cannot speak of integral development without showing consideration and care for our common home,” which means that a way must be found to preserve natural resources, while also investing in education, health care and job creation.

“We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental,” he said, quoting “Laudato Si’,” his encyclical on “integral ecology.”

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