Pope's Address to Bishops of Senegal, Mauritania, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau

«Some of your Churches are small, fragile, but they are courageous and generous in the proclamation of the faith, and you have given witness of their real dynamism.»

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Below is a translation of Pope Francis’ address to the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Senegal, Mauritania, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau, on the occasion of the visit “ad Limina Apostolorum:”

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Dear Brother Bishops,

I am happy to meet with you on the occasion of your pilgrimage to Rome for the visit ad Limina. I address a cordial greeting to the Lord Cardinal Sarr, as well as to each of you, and I thank Monsignor Benjamin Ndiaye, President of your Episcopal Conference, for the words he addressed to me. When you return to your dioceses, I ask you to transmit to all your faithful – priests, consecrated persons, and families in particular – my affection, assuring them of my closeness in thought and prayer on the journey of their Christian life. Likewise, I commend myself to the prayer of each one of you, and of each of your communities.

Your pilgrimage is an occasion to strengthen the fraternal communion that the particular Churches have with the Church of Rome and her Bishop. However, it is also the occasion to reinforce the bonds of charity that exist among you – since each Bishop must bear in his heart the concerns of all the Churches – and thus live collegiality. This is quite a challenge for an Episcopal Conference that gathers Bishops from four countries – Senegal, Mauritania, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau – countries that are different in language, geography, culture and history –, but who nevertheless feel the need to meet and to support one another mutually in the ministry. It is important that you be able to manifest this communion in difference, which is, already in itself, a genuine witness rendered to the Risen Christ, in a world where too many conflicts divide peoples, because “the proclamation of peace […] is the conviction that the unity of the Spirit harmonizes all diversities. It goes beyond all conflict to a new and promising synthesis (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 230).” I invite you to persevere in mutual hospitality, by your meetings and your common works, without being discouraged in face of difficulties, because it is Christ’s Spirit that unites you and “infuses in you the strength to proclaim the novelty of the Gospel with audacity: (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 259).»

Among the challenges that you must all highlight is a more profound rooting of the faith in hearts, so that it is really put into practice in life. That is certainly, particularly true also, where the Gospel has been proclaimed for a long time, because faith is a gift which must always be strengthened, and which today is menaced in many ways, be it by easier and more attractive religious propositions on the moral plane, which arise everywhere, or by the phenomenon of secularization, which also touches the African societies. To remain always faithful to Christ, despite the difficulties, it is necessary to love and attach oneself to Him with ardor, and to perceive to what point encountering Him “gives life a new horizon and, because of this, its decisive orientation” (Deus Caritas Est, n.1).

It is appropriate, therefore, that the laity receive a solid doctrinal and spiritual formation, and constant support to be capable of rendering witness to Christ in their milieux of life, in view of permeating the society lastingly in the principles of the Gospel, while avoiding the faith being marginalized in public life. A fruitful collaboration between priests, religious institutes and laymen, as well as the pastoral care given to Associations and Movements, will certainly contribute to attain this objective.

The family pastoral – as the Synod of Bishops stressed recently – must also be the object of particular attention, because the family is the basic cell of society and of the Church. It is the place where the rudiments of faith and elementary principles of common life are taught and, very often, the place where priestly and religious vocations are born, of which your Churches are in need.

The formation of priests is determinant for the future. Your countries experience very different situations, but the primacy of quality over quantity remains necessary everywhere. On one hand, it entails that priestly formation, which must be at the same time in an interactive manner, spiritual, intellectual, communitarian and pastoral, must be of quality, and I know how much that represents for you efforts and resources. On the other hand, I invite you to be close to your priests, in particular the young ones, to ensure that after Ordination they persevere in permanent formation as in the life of prayer, and that they benefit form spiritual support. In this way, they will be able to face the challenges that present themselves to them: for some, a certain isolation, for others , material poverty and the lack of resources, for others the attraction of the world, etc.

Likewise, contact with other religions is a particularly present reality in certain of your dioceses, because Islam is greatly in the majority there, in conditions of mutual relations between very different communities from one place to another. I think it is important that clerics receive in the seminary a formation that is even more structured, in order to develop on the spot a constructive dialogue with Muslims, dialogue that is increasingly necessary to live with them a peaceful coexistence; Because “if all of us believers in God desire to serve reconciliation, justice and peace, we must work together to banish all forms of discrimination, intolerance and confessional fundamentalism” (Africae Munus, n. 14). Moreover, the Church must witness ceaselessly the love of God, Creator of all men, by not making religious distinctions in her social action (cf. Ibid.}.

In a more general way, it seems to me important that you not hesitate to hold the whole the place that is yours on the civil society. I know that you work with perseverance, notably in Senegal and in Guinea-Bissau, for peace and reconciliation, for which I am very happy; my prayer supports you in those efforts. I recommend that you be concerned to have good relations with the political Authorities, in order to foster official recognition of ecclesial structures that greatly facilitate the work of evangelization. Some among you, such as, for instance, the Bishops of Cape Verde, already benefit from the existence of a Framework-Agreement between the State and the Holy See.

Even where the Church is much in the minority – even totally on the margin of civil life – she is, nevertheless, appreciated and recognized for her significant contribution in the areas of human promotion, health and education. I am grateful to you for the works accomplished in your dioceses – very often by the perseverant engagement of Religious Congregations and numerous associated laymen, may they be heartily thanked – and who constitute already a genuine evangelization in acts. Do not hesitate to reflect further on these questions systematically, and to head veritable projects of solidarity and education of youth.

Dear Brother Bishops, some of your Churches are small, fragile, but they are courageous and generous in the proclamation of the faith, and you have given witness of their real dynamism. I thank God for the wonders that He accomplishes among you, and I thank you, as well as all those who take part in this common work of Evangelization. The challenges will certainly not be lacking, but I encourage you to go forward resolutely, certain that the Spirit of Jesus will lead you.” He it is who comes to help our weakness, […] and He can heal everything that weakens us in our missionary engagement […] He knows well what we are in need of in each age and each instant” (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 280).

On repeating my affection for you and my warmest encouragement, I entrust you, as well as all the priests, men and women religious and lay faithful of your dioceses, to the protection of the Virgin Mary and I give you my heartfelt Apostolic Blessing.< /p>

[Original text: French] [Translation by ZENIT]
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