Below is a translation of Pope Francis’ address to the participants in the Symposium of the Episcopal Conference of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) Saturday at noon in the Vatican:
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This meeting with you, who represent the Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), gives me the opportunity to encourage this institution, thought out and promoted after Vatican Council II to render a service to the local Churches in Africa. The purpose of this service is to give common answers to the continent’s new challenges, so that the Church can speak with one voice, witnessing her vocation to be sign and instrument of salvation, peace, dialogue and reconciliation. Of great importance to fulfil this mission is that the symposium remains faithful to its identity: that is, to be a living experience of communion and service, especially to the poorest.
This itinerary requires that the pastors remain free from every worldly and political preoccupation, that they reinforce their bonds of communion with the Pope, through collaboration with the Apostolic Nunciatures, and with a “fluid” and direct communication with the other entities of the Church. At the same time, it is necessary to maintain simple ecclesial experiences within the reach of all, as well as simple pastoral structures. Experience teaches that large bureaucratic structures analyse the problems abstractly and run the risk of having the Church far from the people. And, because of this, concreteness is important: the concreteness, that the reality can be touched.
Young generations have the need, especially, of your witness: young people look to us. The future, in Africa, is in the hands of the young, and today they are called to defend themselves from new and unscrupulous forms of “colonization,” such as success, wealth, power at all costs, but also fundamentalism and the distorted use of religion, and new ideologies that destroy the identity of persons and of families. The most effective way to overcome the temptation to yield to these very dangerous lifestyles is to invest in the field of education. It will also be useful to oppose the widespread mentality of abuse and of violence, as well as divisions on the social, ethnic and religious basis. There must be above all a concern to offer an educational proposal that teaches young people to think critically and that indicates a course of maturation in values (Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 64). An important instrument in this educational course is constituted by the school pastoral: whether in Catholic schools or in public ones the educational task must be combined with the explicit proclamation of the Gospel (Ibid., 132-134).
For a variety of reasons, in Africa also there is a certain disintegration of the family. Therefore, the Church is called to appreciate and to boost all initiatives in favor of the family, as privileged source of every fraternity, and foundation and primary path of peace (Cf. John Paul II, Message for the 27th World Day of Peace, January 1, 1994). In these last times, many priests, religious and laity have undertaken commendable endeavors to sustain the family, giving special attention to the elderly, the sick and those bearing handicaps. Especially in most isolated and remote regions, your Churches have proclaimed the Gospel of Life and, on the example of the Good Samaritan, have helped the neediest. A wonderful testimony of charity was also rendered in face of the recent emergency of the Ebola virus, which has stricken so many communities, parishes and hospital centers. Numerous African missionaries generously offered their life to remain at the side of the sick. This is a path to be followed always with renewed apostolic ardor! We, disciples of Christ, cannot fail to be concerned about the good of the weakest persons; and we must also awaken the attention of society and of public authorities on their conditions of life.
Dear Brothers, I wish to express my appreciation for the precious contribution of so many priests, religious and lay faithful in the proclamation of the Gospel and in the social progress of your populations. Your symposium is also a place of promotion of legality, so that the wounds of corruption and fatalism may heal and foster the commitment of Christians in secular realities, in view of the common good. The great task of evangelization, in fact, is to have the Gospel permeate our life so that we, in turn, can take it to others. Therefore, it is important to remember that evangelization means to accept Christ’s call to “repent and to believe in the Gospel” (Cf. Mark 1:15). As the result of this conversion to salvation, not only the individual but the whole ecclesial community is changed, it becomes ever more a living expression of faith and charity.
May the light and strength of the Holy Spirit sustain your pastoral efforts. May the Virgin Mary protect and intercede for you and for the entire African continent. My blessing also accompanies you. Please, pray for me.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]