Pontiff Calls Sierra Leone a "Sign of Hope"

Praises Nation for Recovering From Civil War

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 19, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI called the end of political instability and conflict in Sierra Leone a «sign of hope» for Africa and the world.

The Pope said this Thursday upon receiving in audience Christian Sheka Kargbo, the new ambassador of Sierra Leone to the Holy See, referring to the civil war that broke out in the West African country in 1991.

The conflict ended in 2000 when the United Nations, led by Nigerian troops, defeated rebel forces. Tens of thousands of people died and more than 2 million were displaced during the nine-year war, which was officially declared over in 2002.

«Your country’s return to peace and stability, after many years of conflict, is a great sign of hope for Africa and for the world,» the Pontiff said. «Indeed, the recent elections manifested the people’s desire for a lasting peace and a solid democracy.

«The smooth transition from one government to another speaks well of the country’s political representatives and their desire to serve their constituencies.»

The Holy Father added that it was «edifying» to see Sierra Leone to begin a new chapter «after so many destructive years of violence.»

«I join my hopes with those of others,» he said, «as I pray that the nation will continue along the path of building ever stronger democratic institutions, fostering justice and strengthening the common good.»

Moral fiber

Looking forward, Benedict XVI praised the priority given by the government to heal «the moral fiber of society,» especially through the «eradication of corrupt practices.»

«Experience has shown that nations can make steady progress only when the majority of their citizens are properly nourished, well educated and respectful toward others,» he noted.

The Pontiff continued: «The Church will continue to cooperate in the promotion of a moral climate of hope for the future. Indeed, she is pleased to contribute to this important task especially in the field of education, where new generations of young people are formed so as to become active and responsible members of society.

«This mission is all the more successful and fulfilling for all involved when educational institutions, inspired by religious values and principles, can enjoy a sufficient and acceptable degree of institutional autonomy and initiative.»

Regarding ethnic and religious conflict, the Holy Father said the nation was «blessed to be free» of this type of discord.

«Diversity, in language and customs, represents a richness that must be valued,» he said. «Moreover, religion teaches its adherents to consider others as brothers and sisters who are called together in the great human family to build up a common home in peace and cooperation.»

Benedict XVI assured the ambassador that the Church will «continue to encourage mutual understanding and good will among different ethnic and religious groups by opposing prejudice and supporting cooperation» in Sierra Leone.

«By engaging in interreligious dialogue,» he added, «she is confident that the example of a close, respectful relationship among religious leaders will bring believers to consolidate their attitudes of mutual understanding and peaceful cooperation.»

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