“I would like you to convey to the whole people of Central Africa the assurance of my closeness. I know the suffering they experienced and that they still live through and the countless testimonies of faith and fidelity that Christians have made of the risen Christ on multiple occasions.”
These were the words of Pope Francis in an address delivered to the bishops of the Central African Republic (CAR), who are in Rome on their ad Limina Apostolorum visit today. In his address, the Holy Father recognized the difficulties in their country, which is in the grips of a civil war.
“Your task is difficult, but it goes to the mystery of Jesus Christ dead and risen,” the address read. “That is when evil and death seem to triumph as the hope of a renewal, built on Christ emerges. That is when hatred and violence are unleashed, we are called – and we find strength through the power of the cross and the grace of Baptism – to respond with forgiveness and love.”
“If, unfortunately, it has not always been so in the recent events that you experienced, it is a sign that the Gospel has not penetrated deeply throughout the heart of God’s people, to the point ‘change the reflexes and behavior.”
The Holy Father said that while the Church of the Central African Republic is “of recent evangelization”, the prelates should not feel discourage but rather, find renewed enthusiasm through faith. For this reason, he stated, Christian formation and deepening of the faith should be a top priority for the bishops.
Regarding the continuing evangelization of the Central African Republic, the Pope called on the bishops to take care and strengthen their priests, saying that it is necessary for them to become “attentive fathers.”
“The closeness of the Bishop with his priests is important because it allows a dialogue in truth with them, to provide what is best for everyone, prevent and remedy the shortcomings,” he stated.
“Initial training in the seminary and vocational discernment are crucial. Besides the intellectual, spiritual and community, particular care should be taken to human and affective formation, so that future priests be able to live their commitment to celibacy on which no compromise can be accepted.”
The 78 year old Pontiff conveyed his gratitude to the priests of the Central African Republic who often find themselves in difficult situations. He also thanked the consecrated men and women in the country, saying their work and dedication is irreplaceable.
“What charitable works done by many religious congregations, either in education, care, human promotion, while the needs are huge!” he exclaimed. “I pray that religious men and women find in this Year of Consecrated Life authentic spiritual comfort and the opportunity to deepen their vocation and their union with Christ. Harmony should always promote among Institutes and diocesan agencies so as to make the world the best witness of unity and love.”
Finally, the Pope focused on the families, who he lamented “who are the first victims of violence and are often destabilized or destroyed due to the expulsion of a member, bereavement, poverty, discord, separations.”
Families, he said, “are the privileged place for the proclamation of the faith and practice of Christian virtues.” The Pope called on the African prelates to protect and defend families while encouraging them to continue the pastoral care of marriages.
Concluding his address, Pope Francis entrusted the Church in the Central African Republic to the care of the Blessed Virgin Mary.