Pope gives hope to Mauritians who want UK to return islands

Pope gives hope to Mauritians who want UK to return islands
# 09 September 2019 18:18 (UTC +04:00)

Pope Francis wrapped up his trip to Africa on Monday with a lightning visit to Mauritius, saying Mass for 100,000 people and giving hope to a movement that wants Britain to return a group of islands, APA reports citing Reuters.

Francis arrived in Mauritius, a former British colony in the Indian Ocean, to a welcome by crowds waving palm fronds as he drove past sugarcane fields on his way to the capital. He celebrated the Mass on a terraced mountainside overlooking the harbor.

In greetings after the Mass to various delegations, Francis referred to an archipelago contested between Britain and Mauritius as the Chagos, instead of by its British name - the British Indian Ocean Territory, or BIOT.

“This represents an important step forward in our fight to recognize the sovereignty of the Republic of Mauritius over the Chagos archipelago”, a senior source in Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth’s office told Reuters when asked about the significance of the pope’s choice of words.

Britain, which has overseen the region since 1814, detached the Chagos islands in 1965 from Mauritius to create the British Indian Ocean Territory, three years before granting independence to Mauritius - minus the islands.

The Chagos archipelago includes the island of Diego Garcia, which Britain leases to the United States and which is home to an air base jointly used by Britain and the United States.

“I was very happy and proud to hear the pope say Chagos after his homily,” said Rosemond Saminaden, 83, who was forced to leave one of the islands in 1973, and is a member of the Chagos Refugee Group, which is pushing for restitution of their land.

“This gives us a lot of hope and courage. We are happy that the pope thinks about us and that he knows that we are far from our land,” he said.

The main reason for Francis’ trip, the last country on his three-nation African tour, was to pay tribute to Jacques-Désiré Laval, a 19th century French priest who helped former slaves. Francis was later due to visit a sanctuary that is dedicated to Laval and is a major pilgrimage destination.

Mauritius is far richer than Madagascar, or the first country on his trip, Mozambique, as it has benefited greatly from tourism and a financial services sector.

The pope was returning to Madagascar for the night and was due to leave for Rome on Tuesday morning.