Pope Francis on Monday urged Mauritius, a prosperous magnet for tourists and a global tax haven, to shun an “idolatrous economic model” that excludes the youth and the poor and damages the environment.
The Argentine pontiff’s visit to the idyllic Indian Ocean island began with a mass attended by an estimated 100,000 faithful, ecstatically waving palm fronds and cheering “Francis, Francis”.
While the island is a beacon of stability and relative prosperity, Pope Francis honed in on the struggles of the youth, who face growing inequality, unemployment and the scourge of drug abuse.
“It is a hard thing to say, but, despite the economic growth your country has known in recent decades, it is the young who are suffering the most. They suffer from unemployment, which not only creates uncertainty about the future, but also prevents them from believing that they play a significant part in your shared history,” said the pope.
“Let us not allow those who deal in death to rob the first fruits of this land,” he said, referring to drug dealers.
According to a Mauritius Drug Observatory report in 2018, the smuggling and use of drugs such as heroin, cannabis, cocaine and methamphetamine, has grown in recent years.
He continued this theme in a later address at the presidential palace, warning that the country’s system of economic growth sidelined the young.
Since independence in 1968, Mauritius has developed from a poor, agriculture-based economy, to one of Africa’s wealthiest nations and financial services hub.
It has increasingly come under fire for helping global companies avoid paying taxes — often in poor African nations — and was in 2015 placed on a European Union tax haven blacklist.
General unemployment is low compared to the rest of the continent at 6.9 percent in 2018 according to the World Bank, but is high among the youth at 22 percent and inequality is seen to be rising.
Pope Francis urged Madagascar “not to yield to the temptation of an idolatrous economic model that feels the need to sacrifice human lives on the altar of speculation and profit alone, considering only immediate advantage to the detriment of protecting the poor, the environment and its resources”. According to the World Bank, one of the greatest challenges for the island is adapting to the effects of climate change — which has worsened tropical storms and floods affecting it.
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