VATICAN CITY, FEB. 16, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The Church in Africa and in Europe certainly faces many difficulties, but the difficulties themselves are "proof that the Church is alive, that she is growing and is unafraid to carry out her evangelizing mission," says Benedict XVI.
The Pope made this reflection today as he received participants in the Second Symposium of European and African Bishops, which began Monday. The prelates are examining the theme of "Evangelization today: pastoral communion and cooperation between Africa and Europe." The event concluded Friday with a pilgrimage to the Italian shrine of the Holy Face in Manoppello.
"For the Church in Europe," the Pope said, "the encounter with the Church in Africa is always a moment of grace, because of the hope and joy with which ecclesial communities in Africa live and communicate their faith. ... Moreover, it is a pleasure to see how the Church in Africa, though experiencing so many difficulties and having such need of peace and reconciliation, is open to sharing her faith."
In the relationship between the two Churches, bishops must "take account of the fundamental bond between faith and charity, because these two aspects illuminate one another in their truth. Charity favors openness toward modern men and women in their concrete reality, in order to bring them to Christ and His love for each individual and each family, especially those who are poor and alone," he continued.
Benedict XVI acknowledged the difficulties the bishops face, including religious indifference "which causes many people to live as if God did not exist, or to make do with a vague religiosity incapable of measuring up against the question of truth or the requirement to be coherent." In the same context he also mentioned "the influence of a secularized environment often hostile to Christian faith" and "hedonism which has helped to make the crisis of values penetrate into daily life."
Another symptom of "serious social malaise is the spread of pornography and prostitution." However, "these things must not discourage you," he told the bishops. "Rather, they should be a reason for renewed commitment and hope; the hope that arises from the awareness that ... the risen Christ is always with us."
Benedict XVI reiterated the central role the family plays in pastoral care, because it is "the firmest guarantee for the renewal of society. The family conserves usages, traditions, customs and rites impregnated with faith, and is fertile terrain in which vocations can flower." In this context he invited the participants in the symposium to pay particular attention to the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life.
"Europe and Africa have need of young people who are generous, who can take responsibility for their own future," the Pontiff said. "At the same time, all the institutions must be aware that young people are the keys to the future and that everything must be done to ensure their journey is not hindered by uncertainty and darkness."
"The cultural dimension is also important in the formation of young people," the Holy Father went on. "The Church respects all discoveries of truth, because all truth comes from God, but she knows that the gaze of faith fixed upon Christ opens man's mind and heart to the First Truth, which is God. Thus culture nourished by faith leads to authentic humanization, while false cultures end up by leading to dehumanization: we have seen sad examples of this in Europe and in Africa."
The Bishop of Rome observed that "Certainly there is no lack of difficulties, and some of them are great; yet they are also proof that the Church is alive, that she is growing and is unafraid to carry out her evangelizing mission. To do this, she needs the prayer and commitment of all the faithful. ... As pastors, however, you have a particular responsibility. ... The moral authority and the prestige that uphold the exercise of your juridical power can only come from the holiness of your lives."