On Africa: Protagonist of a New Season of Hope

"The Continent Contains Reserves of Life and Vitality for the Future"

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 23, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in Paul VI Hall. The Pope reflected upon his apostolic journey to Benin.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Still alive within me are the impressions made during my recent Apostolic Journey to Benin, which I desire to reflect upon today. Thanksgiving to the Lord flows spontaneously from my soul: in His providence, He willed that I return to Africa a second time as Successor of Peter -- on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the evangelization of Benin, and in order to sign and officially consign to the African ecclesial communities the Postsynodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus. In this important document -- after having reflected on the analysis and proposals put forth in the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, held in the Vatican in October 2009 -- I wanted to offer several guidelines for pastoral activities in the great African continent. At the same time, I wanted to pay homage and pray at the tomb of a noble son of Benin and of Africa and a great man of the Church -- the unforgettable Cardinal Bernardin Gantin -- whose venerable memory is more alive than ever in his country, where he is looked upon as a Father of his homeland and of the entire continent.

Today I wish to renew my heartfelt thanks to all those who contributed to the realization of my pilgrimage. First and foremost, I am very grateful to the President of the Republic, who with great kindness offered me his cordial greetings on behalf of the entire country; I am grateful also to the Archbishop of Cotonou and to the other venerable brother bishops who welcomed me with affection. I also wish to thank the priests, men and women religious, deacons, catechists and the innumerable brothers and sisters who accompanied me with great faith and warmth during those grace-filled days. Together we lived a moving experience of faith and of renewed encounter with the living Jesus Christ, in the context of the 150th anniversary of the evangelization of Benin.

I laid the fruits of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops at the feet of the Holy Virgin, who in Benin is especially venerated in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception of Ouidah. Modeled on Mary, the Church in Africa welcomed the Good News of the Gospel and gave birth to many peoples of faith. Now the Christian communities of Africa -- as underlined both in the Synod’s theme, as well as in the motto of my Apostolic Journey -- are called to renew themselves in faith, in order increasingly to be at the service of reconciliation, of justice and of peace. They are invited to inner reconciliation, so that they might become joyful instruments of divine mercy -- each contributing its own spiritual and material wealth to their common commitment.

Naturally, this spirit of reconciliation is indispensible also in civil life and it requires an openness to the hope that must animate the socio-political and economic life of the continent as well, as I had occasion to point out in the meeting with the political Institutions, the Diplomatic Corps and representatives of the major religions. On this occasion, I wished to underscore the hope that must inspire the development of the continent, by pointing out the ardent desire for freedom and justice that has animated the hearts of so many African peoples, especially in recent months. I then emphasized the need to build a society in which relations between different ethnic backgrounds and religions are characterized by dialogue and harmony. I invited everyone to be true sowers of hope in every circumstance and in every area of life.

Christians are of their very nature people of hope who cannot be uninterested in their own brothers and sisters: I recalled this truth before the immense crowd gathered for the Sunday Celebration of the Eucharist in Cotonou’s Stadium of Friendship. The Sunday Mass was an extraordinary moment of prayer and celebration in which thousands of the faithful from Benin and from other African nations took part, from the oldest to the youngest: It was a marvelous testimony to how the faith unites generations and responds to the challenges of every stage of life.

During this touching and solemn celebration, I presented to the President of Africa’s Conference of Bishops the Postsynodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus, which I had signed the day before at Ouidah -- addressed to the bishops, to priests, men and women religious, catechists and to the laity from the whole continent of Africa. Entrusting to them the fruits of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, I asked them to meditate on them attentively and to live them fully, so as to respond effectively to the pilgrim Church of Africa’s demanding mission of evangelization in the third millennium. In this important text, every member of the faithful will find the fundamental guidelines that will guide and encourage the Church’s journey in Africa, which increasingly is called to be “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14).

I addressed to all the appeal to be untiring builders of communion, peace and solidarity, in order thereby to cooperate in the realization of God’s plan of salvation for humanity. Africans responded with their enthusiasm to the Pope’s invitation -- and in their faces, in their ardent faith, in their resolute adherence to the Gospel of life -- I recognized once more consoling signs of hope for the great African continent.

I experienced these signs firsthand also in my meeting with children, and in my encounter with the world of suffering. In the parish church of St. Rita, I truly experienced the joy of life, the delight and enthusiasm of the new generations who represent the future of Africa. To the joyful throng of children -- one of the great resources and riches of the Continent -- I held up the figure of St. Kizito, an Ugandan boy who was killed because he wanted to live according to the Gospel, and I exhorted each child to be a witness to Jesus among his own peers.

My encounter with abandoned and sick children at the Home of Peace and Happiness run by Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity was an extremely moving experience, which permitted me to see concretely how love and solidarity are able to make the strength and affection of the Risen Christ present in weakness.

The joy and apostolic ardor that I encountered among priests, men and women religious, seminarians and lay faithful, who gathered in great numbers, is a sign of sure hope for the future of the Church in Benin. I exhorted all to an authentic and living faith and to a Christian life characterized by the practice of the virtues, and I encouraged everyone to live their respective mission in the Church with fidelity to the teachings of the Magisterium, in communion among themselves and with their Pastors. I pointed out the way of holiness especially to priests, recalling that ministry is not a mere social function but a means of bringing God to man and man to God.

The meeting with the Bishops of Benin was an intense moment of communion, during which we reflected particularly upon the origins of the announcement of the Gospel in their country by missionaries who generously gave their lives -- at times in a heroic manner -- so that the love of God might be proclaimed to all. To the bishops I addressed an invitation to implement appropriate pastoral initiatives in order to enkindle in families, parishes, communities and ecclesial movements a constant rediscovery of Sacred Scripture as a source of spiritual renewal and an opportunity to deepen their faith. In this renewed approach to the Word of God and in the rediscovery of their own baptism, the lay faithful will find the strength to witness their faith in Christ and in His Gospel in their daily lives.

In this crucial phase for the entire continent, the Church in Africa -- with its commitment to the service of the Gospel and with the courageous witness of effective solidarity -- will be able to be a protagonist of a new season of hope. In Africa, I saw a freshness in the “yes” to life, a freshness in religious sensibilities and a freshness of hope, as well as a sense of reality in its totality, with God -- and not reduced to a positivism that, in the end, extinguishes hope. This tells us that the continent contains reserves of life and vitality for the future upon which we can rely, upon which the Church can rely.

My journey was a great appeal to Africa to direct every effort to announcing the Gospel to those who as yet do not know it. This involves a renewed commitment to evangelization -- to which each of the baptized is called -- by promoting reconciliation, justice and peace.

To Mary, Mother of the Church and Our Lady of Africa, I entrust all those whom I had occasion to meet during my unforgettable Apostolic Journey. To her I commend the Church in Africa. May the maternal intercession of Mary “whose heart is always inclined to God’s will, sustain every effort at conversion; may she consolidate every initiative of reconciliation and strengthen every endeavour for peace in a world which hungers and thirsts for justice” (Africae munus, 175). Thank you.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

My Apostolic Journey to Benin this past week celebrated the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of its evangelization and enabled me to honour the memory of Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, a great churchman and a noble son of that country. During Sunday Mass at the stadium of Cotonou I signed the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus and presented it to the entire Church in Africa. The Exhortation gathers the fruits of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, held in Rome two years ago, and it offers guidelines for the Church’s future mission on the continent. In the light of the Synod, the Church in Africa is called to deepened faith and commitment in the service to reconciliation, justice and peace. I ask you to join me in commending all Christ’s followers in Africa to the maternal intercession of Our Lady of Africa, so that by their witness of fidelity to God’s word, their commitment to the spread of the Gospel and their efforts to build communion, peace and solidarity they can become protagonists of a new season of hope for that great Continent.

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I offer a cordial greeting to the Sisters of Jesus and Mary taking part in a course of spiritual renewal. I also greet the international group of Marist and Marianist Brothers. My warm welcome likewise goes to the pilgrims from Indonesia. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, including the groups from Nigeria, South Korea and the United States of America, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

[In Italian, he said:]

A thought now goes, as is our custom, to young people, to the sick and to newlyweds.

We are living the last days of the liturgical year, which invite us to consider time, which passes, with the eyes of faith. Dear young people, harmonize your personal journey with the Church’s, which flows from the liturgy, and prepare yourselves to live the time of Advent as a time of interior waiting on the Messiah, Our Savior. Dear sick, ask God for the gift of hope, and offer even your sufferings for this; and you, dear newlyweds, always trust in Divine Providence, which guides and accompanies Christian families.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]