Here is a translation of the address Pope Francis gave Thursday as a written statement to the bishops of Chad, in Rome for their five-yearly ad limina visits.
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Dear Brother Bishops,
It is a great joy to receive you in the Vatican on the occasion of your visit ad Limina. I cordially thank Monsignor Jean Claude Bouchard, president of your Episcopal Conference, for the words he addressed to me. This regular pilgrimage of the Bishops of the whole world to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul is a particularly significant occasion to live collegiality. Not only does it manifest and tighten the bonds of communion with the Successor of Peter, but it recalls also the fraternal solicitude that each Bishop must have for the other particular Churches, notably those that are in the same country. I hope that you will return to your dioceses reinforced in the conviction that you are not alone in your difficult and demanding mission, but that you have, at your side, brothers that share the same desire to proclaim the Gospel and to serve the Church in Chad, and also the certitude that the Pope, with the whole universal Church, has you in his prayer and encourages you in your ministry.
And I wish first of all to thank you for the work of evangelization that you carry out. Your communities are growing, not only numerically but also in the quality and vigor of their engagement. I rejoice, in fact, over the work carried out in the areas of education, health and development. Moreover, the Civil Authorities are very grateful to the Catholic Church for what she contributes to the whole of Chadian society. I encourage you to persevere in this path because there is a profound bond between evangelization and human promotion, a bond that must be expressed and developed in the whole of the evangelizing action (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, n. 178) The service of the poor and the weakest is a veritable testimony rendered to Christ, who made himself poor to come close to us and save us. The Religious Congregations, as well as the laymen that work with them, have a considerable role in this area, may they be earnestly thanked.
However, it is certain that this engagement in social works does not exhaust the whole of the evangelizing action; a deepening and rooting of the faith in the heart of the faithful — translated in a genuine spiritual and sacramental life – is indispensable for them to be able to endure the trials, which are numerous today, and for the conduct of the faithful to be more in accordance with the demands of the Gospel, bringing them to progress towards veritable holiness. This is particularly true in a country where the weight of certain cultural traditions is very strong, where the easiest religious proposals in the moral plane appear everywhere, and where secularization is beginning to be felt.
It is necessary therefore that the faithful be solidly formed doctrinally and spiritually. And, certainly, the first place of this formation is catechesis. I invite you, in a renewed missionary spirit, to update the catechetical methods used in your dioceses. On one hand, what is good in your cultural traditions must be taken into account and appreciated – because Christ did not come to destroy cultures but to lead them to their fulfilment (cf. General Audience of August 20, 2014) – while what is not Christian must be very clearly denounced. At the same time, it is indispensable to guard the exactitude and exhaustiveness of the doctrinal content of these courses. This content is expressed with clarity in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, to which all formation courses should refer.
The desire for a catechesis of quality poses necessarily the question of the formation of catechists. They are very numerous in your dioceses and their role in the proclamation of the faith is irreplaceable. I ask you to transmit to them my heartfelt encouragement. The catechist should be properly formed, not only intellectually – which is absolutely indispensable – but also humanly and spiritually so that, as a veritable witness of Christ, his teaching really bears fruit. Perhaps each diocese should equip itself with a Center of Formation, which is allocated to it and can be useful, in a more general way, in the permanent formation of laymen? In fact, the work of evangelization of the faithful must be constantly taken up again and deepened.
This is equally true for the subject of families, which are the “vital cell of society and of the Church” (Africae Munus, n. 42) and which today are very undermined. I recommend to you – but I know you already do it – to give them very attentive care; they are in need of your guidelines, of your teachings, of your protection. And, within the family, it is important that the woman’s role and dignity are appreciated, so as to render eloquent witness in favour of the Gospel. Therefore, in this realm, it is appropriate that conduct within the Church be a model for the whole of the society” (Africae Munus, n. 56).
Finally, the fecundity and solidity of evangelization passes naturally through the quality of the clergy. I address to all the priests my most affectionate greetings. Their task is certainly difficult, carried out often in conditions of impoverishment and loneliness. In order to support them in their mission, and for their ministry to the faithful to be fecund, it is necessary to give particular care to their formation in the seminaries. I am aware of the investment – in money and persons – that this represents for a diocese. However, I earnestly recommend that you act in a concerted way to appoint and form stable and competent professors. Do not hesitate to invest yourselves personally, by you yourselves visiting the seminaries, being close to the professors as well as the seminarians, in order to know better the riches and lacuna of their formation, to reinforce the former and remedy the latter.
In regard to the permanent formation of the clergy, at the diocesan level so that they can all take part in it, it is certainly necessary to take up and to recall the exigencies of priestly life in all its aspects – spiritual, intellectual, moral, pastoral, liturgical — as also to arouse a sincere and enthusiastic priestly fraternity.
Dear Brother Bishops, in spite of her vitality and development, the Church in Chad is very much a minority in the midst of a people the majority of which is Muslim and which is still in part attached to its traditional cults. I encourage you to have the Church, which is respected and heard, keep the place that is hers in Chadian society, of which she has become a structural element, also where she is a minority. In such a context, I can only encourage you to foster inter-religious dialogue, as the mourned Archbishop of N’Djamena, Monsignor Mathias N’Garteri Maydai began happily to do, who worked much to promote co-existence among the different religious communities. I think that such initiatives must be pursued in order to discourage the development of violence of which Christians are the victims in countries neighbouring yours. Moreover, it is very important to maintain the good relations effected with the civil authorities, and which made possible the recent signing of an Agreement-Framework between the Holy See and the Republic of Chad that, once ratified, will very much help the mission of the Church. May you be able to put this Agreement fully to work, for a greater influence of the Gospel!
In this hope, entrusting you all, as well as the priests, the consecrated persons, the catechists and all the lay faithful of your dioceses to the protection of the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, and to the intercession of Saint John Paul II, I give you my heartfelt Apostolic Blessing.[Original text: French] [Translation by ZENIT]