ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar — Pope Francis Sunday told Catholics in Madagascar that following Jesus can be demanding, but that Christ calls his disciples to place God at the center of their lives.

“As we look around us, how many men and women, young people and children are suffering and in utter need! This is not part of God’s plan. How urgently Jesus calls us to die to our self-centerdness, our individualism and our pride!” Pope Francis said during Mass Sept. 8, at the Soamandrakizay diocesan field, in Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital city.

The pope celebrated Mass in Madagascar during a six-day trip to three African countries. He was in Mozambique Sept. 5-6 and will be in Mauritius Sept. 9.

The pope told Massgoers that Jesus demands that Catholics eschew tribalism.

“When ‘family’ becomes the decisive criterion for what we consider right and good, we end up justifying and even ‘consecrating’ practices that lead to the culture of privilege and exclusion: favoritism, patronage and, as a consequence, corruption. The Master demands that we see beyond this. He says this clearly: anyone incapable of seeing others as brothers or sisters, of showing sensitivity to their lives and situations regardless of their family, cultural or social background ‘cannot be my disciple.’”

He added that Catholics are called “not to dilute and narrow the Gospel message, but instead to build history in fraternity and solidarity, in complete respect for the earth and its gifts, as opposed to any form of exploitation.”

Christ, the pope said, “shows us how hard it is to follow him if we seek to identify the kingdom of heaven with our personal agenda or our attachment to an ideology that would abuse the name of God or of religion to justify acts of violence, segregation and even murder, exile, terrorism and marginalization.”

He added that Jesus “wants to prepare his disciples for the celebration of the coming of the kingdom of God, and to free them from the grave obstacle that, in the end, is one of the worst forms of enslavement: living only for oneself. It is the temptation to fall back into our little universe, and it ends up leaving little room for other people. The poor no longer enter in, we no longer hear the voice of God, we no longer enjoy the quiet joy of his love, we are no longer eager to do good... Many people, by shutting themselves up in this way, can feel ‘apparently’ secure, yet they end up becoming bitter, querulous and lifeless.”

“The demands that Jesus sets before us cease to be burdensome as soon as we begin to taste the joy of the new life that he himself sets before us. It is the joy born of knowing that he is the first to seek us at the crossroads, even when we are lost like the sheep or the prodigal son. May this humble realism inspire us to take on great challenges and give you the desire to make your beautiful country a place where the Gospel becomes life, and where life is for the greater glory of God.”
 
“For us as Christians, our sacrifices only make sense in the light of the joyful celebration of our encounter with Jesus Christ,” the pope added.