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Dear Brothers and Sisters!
First I would like to thank God, and those who helped in various ways, for the success of the apostolic trip that I was able to make to Africa recently, and I invoke the abundance of the blessings of heaven on the seeds that were sown in the African soil. I plan to speak at greater length about this significant pastoral experience at the general audience on Wednesday, but I cannot pass up welcoming the present occasion to manifest the deep emotion that I experienced meeting the Catholic communities and the people of Cameroon and Angola. There were two aspects -- both very important -- that above all made an impression on me.
The first is the visible joy in the faces of the people, the joy of feeling part of the family of God, and I thank the Lord for having been able to share moments of simple choral and faith-filled celebration with great numbers of our brothers and sisters. The second aspect is precisely the strong sense of the sacred that one breathes in the liturgical celebrations, a characteristic common to all the peoples of Africa, which I could say emerged in every moment of my stay among those dear people. The visit permitted me better to see and understand the reality of the Church in Africa in the variety of the experiences and challenges that she finds before her at this time.
Thinking of the challenges that mark the path of the Church on the African continent, and in every other part of the world, we recognize how relevant the words of the Gospel of this Fifth Sunday of Lent are. Jesus, with his passion drawing near, declares: “If the grain of wheat that falls to the earth does not die, it remains alone; but if it dies, it brings forth much fruit” (John 12:24). It is no longer time for words and speeches; the decisive hour has arrived, the hour for which the Son of God has come into the world, and despite his troubled soul, he makes himself available to accomplish the Father’s will to the end. And this is God’s will: To give eternal life to us who have lost it. But that this be realized Jesus must die, like a grain of wheat that God the Father has sown in the world. Only in this way can a new humanity sprout and grow, free from the domination of sin and able to live in fraternity, as the sons and daughters of the one Father who is in heaven.
In the great feast of faith that was experienced together in Africa, we saw that this new humanity is alive, even with its human limitations. There where, like Jesus, missionaries gave, and continue to spend, their lives for the Gospel, abundant fruit is harvested. I would like to express my gratitude for the good that they do. These missionaries are men and women, religious and lay. It was beautiful to see the fruit of their love for Christ and observe the deep thankfulness that the Christians have for them. Let us give thanks to God and pray to Mary Most Holy that Christ’s message of hope and love be spread through whole world.
[After the Angelus the Pope greeted the pilgrims in various languages. In Italian, he said:]
I greet with affection the numerous Africans who live in Rome, among whom there are many students, who are here today with Monsignor Robert Sarah, secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Dear friends, you wanted to come to manifest your joy for my apostolic trip to Africa. I thank you from my heart. I pray for you, for your families and your homelands. Thank you!
On Thursday at 6:00 in the evening in St. Peter’s I will preside at the Mass for the 4th anniversary of the death of my beloved predecessor, the Servant of God John Paul II. I especially invite the young people of Rome to participate, to prepare together for World Youth Day, which will be celebrated at a diocesan level on Palm Sunday.
[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
[In English, he said:]
I am pleased to welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims to this Angelus, especially students and teachers from Holy Trinity Catholic High School in Edmonton, Canada. In today's liturgy, Jesus teaches that "unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit". In these final weeks of Lent, let us intensify our prayer, fasting and almsgiving. In this way, we will prepare ourselves to meditate on Christ's passion and death, so as to rejoice fully in the glory of his Resurrection. God bless you all!