Pope Francis' Address to Bishops of Central African Republic

“It is when evil and death seems to triumph that the hope of a renewal founded on Christ emerges”

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Pope Francis received in audience the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of the Central African Republic, on the occasion of their “ad Limina Apostolorum” visit.

The following is a translation of the text of the Pope’s address to the Prelates in the course of the meeting.

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Dear Brother Bishops,

It is a great joy for me to receive you on the occasion of your ad limina visit, a reception on my part all the more fraternal and affectionate knowing that your communities have experienced for too many months a difficult and painful situation. Our meeting is the occasion to reinforce again the bonds of communion that exist between your local Churches and the Church of Rome, and I want you to know how attentive I remain to the events that you live, and how much my personal prayer and the prayer of the universal Church accompany you.

I sincerely thank Monsignor Dieudonne Nzapalainga, President of your Conference, for the words and testimony he addressed to me in your name. I hope that this pilgrimage to the sources of faith will give you comfort and encouragement for carrying out your pastoral ministry. May the intercession of Saint Peter and Saint Paul obtain for you the necessary graces to gather and lead the flock that the Lord has entrusted to you.

I would like you to transmit to all the people of Central Africa the assurance of my closeness. I know the sufferings they have lived through and still live, as well as the innumerable testimonies of faith and fidelity that Christians have rendered to the Risen Christ on many occasions. I am particularly sensitive to all that your communities have done in favor of persons, victims of violence and refugees.

Your task is difficult, but it touches the very mystery of Jesus Christ dead and risen. It is when evil and death seems to triumph that the hope of a renewal founded on Christ emerges. It is when hatred and violence are unleashed, that we are called — and we find the strength through the power of the cross and the grace of Baptism — to respond with pardon and love. If, alas, it has not always been like this in the recent events you have experienced, it is certainly the sign that the Gospel has not penetrated profoundly everywhere the heart of the People of God, to the point of changing reflexes and behavior. Your Churches are of recent evangelization, and your principal mission is to pursue the work just begun. Therefore, you must not feel discouraged in the storm you are going through, but on the contrary, in faith and hope you must find the source of a renewed enthusiasm and dynamism. This exhortation of the Apostle Saint Paul to Timothy is addressed to you today: “As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5). Christian formation and a deepening of the faith at all levels are for you, therefore, the priority objectives, so that the Gospel will permeate in truth the life of the baptized, for the good, not only of the Christian communities, but of the whole Central African society. Many actors are involved in this educational work, and I would like to greet the indispensable role assured by the catechists who offer generously their time and often their resources. The significant part of the mission assured by the fidei donum priests also merits being underscored. May they be earnestly thanked for coming to share their ministry in such difficult conditions.

However you, Brother Bishops, have an irreplaceable role to play in the process of institutional transition underway, by recalling and witnessing the fundamental values of justice, truth, and probity that are at the base of any renewal, by promoting dialogue and peaceful coexistence among the members of the different religions and ethnic groups, thus fostering reconciliation and social cohesion, which is key for the future. I appreciate particularly your effort in this area, and I invite you to continue in this direction, while taking care of cultivating increasingly among you unity of thought and of action.

You are called to form the conscience of the faithful and likewise that of all the people because your voice is heard and respected by all. It is in this way that it is appropriate for you to hold the place that corresponds to you in the present evolutions, avoiding entering directly in political disputes. However, in forming the laity, convinced in the faith and solidly formed in the Social Doctrine of the Church, and encouraging them to engage in the political debate and to assume their responsibilities – and it is their role –, little by little you will transform the society according to the Gospel and prepare a happy future for your people.

To take up again and pursue the proclamation of the Gospel, it is necessary that you have at heart the need to take care and to strengthen your priests, for whom you must be attentive fathers. The closeness of the Bishop to his priests is important, because it makes possible dialogue in truth with them, to perceive what is most appropriate for each one and to foresee and bring remedy to the weaknesses. Sometimes sanction is certainly necessary but it is the last resort, and it must always leave the door open to mercy. The initial formation at the Seminary, and vocational discernment are determinant. Beyond the intellectual, spiritual and communal formation, altogether particular care must be given to their human and emotional formation, so that the future priests are capable of living their engagement to celibacy on which no compromise can be accepted. May those responsible in the Seminary be thanked for the work accomplished. I ask you also to promote the unity of the presbyterium around you, and to foster, in particular among the youngest, prayer, permanent formation and spiritual support. You yourselves be for your priests models of unity and perfection in the practice of the priestly virtues. I thank the priests of Central Africa for their dedication and the witness they render, in situations that are often difficult. I exhort them to renew courageously their donation to Christ in a radical way, fleeing from the temptations of the world and being faithful to their engagements.

I would also like to thank the consecrated persons. They remain close to afflicted populations; their dedication is worthy of praise and irreplaceable. How many works of charity have been accomplished by the numerous Religious Congregations, be it in the matter of education, of care, or of human promotion, even though the needs are immense! I pray that the men and women Religious may find in this Year of Consecrated Life genuine spiritual comfort, and the occasion for a deepening of their vocation and of their union with Christ. It is appropriate to always foster harmony among the Institutes and diocesan entities, in order to render to the world the best witness of unity and love.

My attention goes finally to the families, which are the first victims of violence and which are too often destabilized or destroyed because of the estrangement of a member, a bereavement, poverty, discord and separations. I express to them my closeness and affection. Not only are families the privileged place for the proclamation of the faith and the practice of Christian virtues, the cradle of numerous priestly and religious vocations, but they are also “the propitious place for apprenticeship and practice in the culture of pardon, of peace and of reconciliation: (Africae munus, n. 43) of which your country is in such great need. It is of capital importance that the family be protected and defended “so that it can render to society the service it expects from it, namely, to give it men and women capable of building a social fabric of peace and harmony” (Ibid.). I cannot but encourage you to give the marriage pastoral all the attention it deserves, and that you not be discouraged in face of the resistances caused by cultural traditions, human weakness or the new id
eological colonization that is spreading everywhere. I also thank you for your participation in the works of the Synod that will be held in Rome next October, and I ask you for your prayers for this intention.

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, I entrust you all, as well as the priests, the consecrated persons, the catechists and the lay faithful of your dioceses to the protection of the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church and Queen of Peace, and I give you my heartfelt Apostolic Blessing.

[Original text: French] [Translation by ZENIT]
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