'Africae Munus' Calls for Reconciliation, Justice, Peace

Holy Father Invites Africans to be ‘Salt of the Earth’

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By Ann Schneible

COTONOU, Benin, NOV. 20, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The apostolic exhortation «Africae munus,» published two years after the most recent synod on Africa, is the response to the 57 propositions offered by the synod fathers at the conclusion of their 2009 Assembly. The objective of the exhortation is to address the particular needs of the Church in Africa as determined throughout the course of the African synod.

«With this document,» Benedict XVI writes, «I wish to make available the encouraging fruits proposed by the synod, and I invite all people of good will to look to Africa with faith and love, to help it become — through Christ and through the Holy Spirit — the light of the world and the salt of the earth (cf. Mt 5:13-14).»

The apostolic exhortation, delivered to the Church on Saturday as the Holy Father was in Benin for his second trip to Africa, consists of two parts: the first addresses the basic structures of the Church in the service of reconciliation, justice and peace (these being the three main elements of the 2009 Synod). The amount of documentation acquired during the synod called for a transforming of «theology into pastoral care, namely into a very concrete pastoral ministry in which the great perspectives found in Sacred Scripture and Tradition find application in the activity of bishops and priests at specific times and places.»

The second part of the exhortation addresses the practical contributions that the Church has made to African society through education, health care and social communications. 

In the document, the Holy Father affirmed the unique sufferings that the people of Africa experience in their daily lives. He writes: «It is with paternal and pastoral concern that I address this document to the Africa today, which has lived through the traumas and conflicts that we know so well.» Africa continues to suffer the consequences of violent conflicts between ethnic groups, slave trade and colonization. For this reason, the exhortation invites all peoples to reconciliation with God and neighbor. «Only authentic reconciliation can achieve lasting peace in society. This is a task incumbent on government authorities and traditional chiefs, but also on ordinary citizens.» The Holy Father stresses the Church’s duty to form consciences according to divine justice. The document looks to subsidiarity, solidarity, and charity, saying: «preferential attention must be reserved for the poor, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, the migrant, the refugee and the displaced.»

The Holy Father also speaks about grave pandemics, such as those of tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and malaria, which continue to ravage Africa in spite of the constant struggle on the part of medical science to bring these pandemics to an end. Pope Benedict therefore asks that particular defense and protection be provided for the family, for women, for children and for all human life, noting that the Church is on the front line in the fight against these pandemics. Moreover, if the fight against HIV/AIDS is to be successful, says the Pontiff, the approach must have an ethical as well as a medical dimension: preventing the spread of the disease can best be accomplished by rejecting a culture of promiscuity, through the encouragement of abstinence outside of marriage, and through fidelity within marriage itself.

Another key point in the document pertained to the challenge of preaching the Gospel in a country where Islam and traditional religions have a significant presence. Benedict writes: «The Synod members noted a dichotomy between certain traditional practices of African cultures and the specific demands of Christ’s message. In her concern for relevance and credibility, the Church needs to carry out a thorough discernment in order to identify those aspects of the culture which represent an obstacle to the incarnation Gospel of values, as well as those aspects which promote them.»

The 2009 Synod was the second of its kind to take place on Africa, the first having been in 1994 under Blessed John Paul II. «The Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa of my predecessor, Blessed John Paul II,» writes Pope Benedict, «brought together the pastoral insights and proposals of the Synod Fathers for a new evangelization of the African continent. It was appropriate, ten years into this third millennium, to rekindle our faith and hope, so as to help build a reconciled Africa by pursuing the paths of truth, justice, love and peace (cf. Ps 85:11).»

Some of the concrete proposals made by Benedict XVI include: Increased promotion of lectio divina (devotional reading of Sacred Scripture) with the objective of building fraternal community; a continental Eucharistic Congress to celebrate the fraternity established by the Eucharistic, which transcends linguistic, tribal, and ethnic differences; to elicit suggestions from local Churches for new saints; to encourage the bishops to support SECAM (Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar); to promote annual celebrations of Reconciliation Days or Weeks, ideally in Advent or Lent; and SECAM’s promotion of a continental Year of Reconciliation (in conjunction with the Holy See).

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