Pope Francis is recognizing that the society of Chad is grateful for the contributions the Church makes there to social services and care for the poor, but he is reminding the country’s bishops that if the faithful don’t have solid formation in the faith, they cannot withstand the trials and difficulties of daily life.
The implementation of catechetical methods for inculturation, the defence of the family and the role of women, and the need for dialogue with other religions in a country where Catholics are a minority were the main themes of a discourse Pope Francis handed to the bishops of Chad this morning, at the end of their ad Limina visit.
The Holy Father writes that the Catholic communities in this country “are growing, not only numerically, but also in terms of quality and the strength of their efforts”, and expressed his satisfaction for the work carried out in the spheres of education, health and development.
“The civil authorities are very grateful to the Catholic Church for her contribution to society as a whole in Chad. I encourage you to persevere along this path, as there is a strong bond between evangelisation and human development, a bond that must be expressed and developed in all the work of evangelisation. Service to the poor and the most disadvantaged constitutes a true testimony of Christ, Who made Himself poor in order to be close to us and to save us. Both the religious congregations and lay associations who work with them play an important role in this respect, and they are to be thanked for this”.
“However”, he observes, “it is certain that this commitment to social service does not constitute the entirety of evangelizing activity; the deepening and strengthening of faith in the hearts of the faithful, that translates into an authentic spiritual and sacramental life, are essential to enable them to withstand the many trials of contemporary life, and to ensure that the behaviour of the faithful is more coherent with the requirements of the Gospel. … This is especially necessary in a country where certain cultural traditions bear considerable weight, where less morally demanding religious possibilities are present everywhere, and where secularism begins to make headway”.
Therefore, “it is necessary for the faithful to receive a solid doctrinal and spiritual formation. And the first locus of formation is certainly catechesis. I invite you, with a renewed missionary spirit, to implement the catechetical methods used in your dioceses. First, the good aspects of their traditions must be considered and accorded their due value – because Christ did not come to destroy cultures, but rather to lead them to fulfilment – while that which is not Christian must be clearly denounced. At the same time, it is essential to ensure the accuracy and integrity of doctrinal content”.
The Pope goes on to refer to families, who are “the vital cell of society and the Church, and who are currently very vulnerable. … And within the family, it is important that the role and the dignity of the woman are recognised, to bear eloquent witness to the Gospel. Therefore, in this respect, “behaviour within the Church must be a model for the whole of society”.
After reiterating the need for the permanent formation of the clergy and the closeness of bishops and priests, Pope Francis observes that the Church in Chad, “despite her vitality and development, is a minority in a population in which there is a Muslim majority and which is still partly bound to its traditional religions”, and encouraged the prelates to ensure “that the Church, which is respected and listened to, occupies the space justly accorded to her in society in Chad, in which a significant element has converted, even though this remains a minority”. He continues, “in this context, I must urge you to foster interreligious dialogue, which was fortunately initiated by the late Archbishop of N’Djamena, Mathias M’Garteri Mayadi, who did much to promote the co-existence of different religious communities. I believe that it is necessary to continue with this type of initiative to prevent the violence to which Christians have fallen victim in neighbouring countries”.
The Holy Father concluded by reiterating the importance of maintaining the good relations established with the civil authorities, and highlighted the recent signing of a Framework Agreement between the Holy See and the Republic of Chad that, once ratified, will greatly help the mission of the Church.
Chad was plagued by civil war for three decades, before a certain level of peace was established in 1990. The central African nation is 53% Muslim and 20% Catholic, with another 14% Protestant.