Here is a translation of Pope Francis’ address to the Episcopal Conference of Togo, who are in Rome for their “ad Limina Apostolorum” visit.
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Dear Brother Bishops,
I give you my welcome on the occasion of your “ad limina” visit. I greet Bishop Benoit Alowonou, President of your Conference, whom I thank for the words he addressed to me in your name. Through you, I also greet the priests, the men and women Religious, and all the faithful of your dioceses, as well as all the inhabitants of Togo.
I hope that you will find, on the occasion of this spiritual renewal to the tombs of the Apostles, all the graces necessary for the accomplishment of your pastoral ministry. Our meeting today manifests my closeness and the concerns that I bear for your dioceses, assuring you of the fraternal support of the universal Church, in the unity of faith and love. However, this meeting manifests also the interest that each one of you has in the other particular Churches, those of your Episcopal Conference of course, which experience comparable situations and common challenges to highlight, but also those of the whole world, and particularly the Church of Rome that presides over the communion. And, in this connection, I am grateful for your prayers for me and for my ministry as Successor of Peter.
I know that you live concretely this solicitude in making your dioceses participate in preparatory reflections for the Synod of Bishops on the Family, which will meet next October at Rome. It is important that the positive aspects of the family, which are lived in Africa, are expressed and understood. In particular, the African family is receptive to life, it respects and takes into account elderly people. Therefore, this heritage must be preserved and serve as an example and encouragement for others. The Sacrament of Marriage is a pastoral reality that is well received in your country, even if obstacles of a cultural and legal order still subsist, impeding certain spouses to go to the end of their desire to found their life as a couple on faith in Christ. I encourage you to persevere in your efforts to support families in their difficulties, notably by education and social works, and that you prepare couples for the engagements, demanding but magnificent, of Christian marriage. Togo is not exempt from ideological and media attacks, spread everywhere today, which propose models of union and families incompatible with the Christian faith. I am aware of the vigilance of which you are proof in the matter, as well as the efforts you deploy, notably at the level of the means of communication.
However, one of the keys that must enable you to face the challenges that present themselves to your communities and your societies is certainly the formation of youth. The Church-Family of God in Togo has chosen to be close to children and young people, who benefit from a good human and religious formation through numerous projects and initiatives. I am well aware of the considerable efforts, both human as well as material, which that represents at all levels. May all those who work in this educational endeavor, so important for the future, be warmly thanked — I am thinking in particular of the catechists whose involvement is considerable –, may they always find in you the necessary encouragement and stimulation. It is of capital importance that young people learn to live their faith in a coherent way, in order to be able to witness with authenticity, and in view of contributing to a more just and solidaristic society.
The men and women Religious have an irreplaceable role in the proclamation and transmission of the faith in Togo. “They are a necessary and precious aid to the pastoral activity, but also a manifestation of the profound nature of the Christian vocation (Africae munus, n. 118). The Institutes, both the native as well as missionary, are numerous; their apostolate of closeness to the populations is appreciated by all and is exercised in a good understanding with you. In this Year of Consecrated Life, I wish to thank them for their selfless and generous engagement at the service of Christ and of the Church, as well as of the whole population that benefits from their dedication. I hope that consecrated persons will be able to benefit from this Year of renewal and reflection, to be always more united to the Risen Christ and to serve Him with perseverance and courage. I invite you to manifest always your paternal solicitude to the different Institutes. Their numbers are growing rapidly, and it is appropriate that their development be well supported and that they take care of the formation of the youngest, notably to avoid amalgamations at the level of faith and of inculturation.
I also wish to express my most affectionate gratitude and encouragement to all your diocesan priests. Their task is immense and they respond with an enthusiastic and generous engagement. I invite you to be close to them always, to arouse in the presbytery a veritable family spirit that fosters priestly solidarity and fraternity, at the service of a common mission. Vocations are numerous in Togo, and the seminarians receive a good formation in your Seminaries. It is necessary that the future priests “be rooted in the evangelical values to strengthen their engagement, in fidelity and loyalty to Christ” (Africae munus, n. 121). This should aid them, in turn, to fight against ambition, careerism, jealousy, worldliness, the seduction of money and the goods of this world, in a sincere celibacy lived joyfully. I recommend that you be particularly attentive to the spiritual and pastoral support of young priests, and that you listen well to what they experience.
Dear Brothers, the Togolese society has accomplished these last years notable progress in the political and social field. The Catholic Church has largely contributed to this, not only by works of evangelization and human promotion, but also by her involvement in justice and reconciliation. I thank you very warmly for the efforts you deployed in this area, in particular for the works of the National Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission. I encourage you to continue to do so, so that the Church takes the place that corresponds to her in the process of institutional reforms underway. In fact, “the Church in Africa must contribute to build the society in collaboration with the governmental authorities and the public and private institutions engaged in building the common good” (Africae munus, n. 81). However, it remains necessary to be careful not to enter directly in the political debates and quarrels, while having at heart the need to form, encourage and support the laity – whose role it is – capable of investing at the highest level in the service of the Nation and of taking responsibilities.
I rejoice that this service rendered to Togolese society is also the occasion of common actions with the other Christian communities, as witnessed by certain joint appeals that you have launched to the Nation. Likewise, in the matter of inter-religious dialogue, it is appropriate to foster always, and perhaps develop even more, the culture of dialogue and of encounter, while you live in a peaceful coexistence, notably with Islam, coexistence that it is appropriate to preserve keeping in mind the present context in West Africa. “The inter-religious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, and, consequently, a duty for Christians, as well as for the other religious communities” (Evangelii gaudium, n. 250). It is particularly necessary that young priests receive a solid formation in this regard.
Dear Brothers, may the efforts of evangelization that you deploy in your pastoral ministry bear numerous fruits. I invite you to render thanks and to renew the gift of yourselves to Christ and to the people whose charge you have. I entrust you all, as well as your dioceses, to the intercession of the Patron Saints of the Church in Togo, John Paul II a
nd John XXIII, and to the maternal protection of the Virgin Mary. I address to you all my heartfelt Apostolic Blessing.