VATICAN CITY, MARCH 21, 2010 ( Benedict XVI expressed his hopes for a new "missionary spirit" in Burkina Faso and Niger in his audience this Saturday with the bishops of these two African nations, who were in Rome for their five-yearly "ad limina" visit.

"Faith always needs to strengthen its roots so that there is no relapse into old practices or those incompatible with following Christ and to resist the appeal of a world that is sometimes hostile to the evangelical ideal," the Pope said.

He then spoke of his gratitude for the bishops' efforts in view of "a healthy inculturation of the faith."

The Pontiff also touched on last October's African Synod in Rome, which focused on reconciliation, justice and peace among the peoples of the African continent.

"I am happy to know that in your dioceses the Church continues, in different ways, to fight against the evils that prevent populations from achieving an authentic development," he said, encouraging the bishops to promote that "solidarity rooted in the love of God," clearly demonstrated when floods struck Burkina Faso last September and an earthquake recently decimated Haiti.

In his address the Holy Father paused to reflect on the "grandeur of the priesthood" and hoped that the Year for Priests, which is under way, would help to "promote an interior renewal in the life of priests, so that their ministry be more and more intense and fruitful."

"The priest is first of all a man of God," he urged, "who tries to answer his call with ever greater consistency and his mission in the service of the faithful entrusted to him and whom he must lead to God."

In this context Benedict XVI noted the necessity of a "solid formation" and a time of "deepening of the priestly life with the aim of avoiding activism."

He next expressed his desire for a careful formation of catechists, laypeople and youth, that would develop a strong faith "expressed in the habitual practice of charity and sustained by a living community" and for special attention to "the political and intellectual elites who must often be confronted and who often have ideologies opposed to the Christian conception of man and society."

Finally, Benedict XVI praised "the good climate that normally exists in interreligious relations" and emphasized the importance of teaching young people "the fundamental values of respect and fraternity," which aid "reciprocal understanding."

In his greetings to the Holy Father the president of the Burkina Faso-Niger Bishops' Conference, Monsignor Séraphin François Rouamba said that in Niger "we also observe with satisfaction and pride the place conferred to the Church despite the small number of Christians."

The prelate then thanked the Pope for the "hopeful look" that he directed toward Africa on his apostolic trip a year ago and for "the path of light and truth that he courageously opened to us to all men of good will."