Bishops from South Africa, Botswana, and Swaziland met with Pope Francis this morning at the Vatican as part of their ad limina visit.
Pope Francis expressed gratitude for the growth of the Church in southern Africa, crediting the labours of missionaries from many lands, and indigenous men and women who “sowed the seeds of your people’s faith so deeply.”
Acknowledging its “great challenges,” he noted the blessings experienced by the Church in Southern Africa. He cited three examples: flourishing parishes, the growth of the diaconate, and service to the vulnerable.
Noting the development of evangelization in Africa, he said before it was missionaries from distant countries who brought the Gospel; now the local Catholic faithful “are having to rely more and more on their own support.”
African Christians are “a sign of hope for the whole Church,” the Pope said, praying that “they will continue to persevere in building up the Lord’s Kingdom with their lives that testify to the truth, and with the work of their hands that ease the sufferings of so many.”
Turning to challenges faced by the Church in southern Africa, he spoke of the decline of Catholic families and of vocations.
He noted how “consistent witness to the moral teaching of the Gospel” by bishops and priests is required to confront family issues, such as abortion, divorce, and violence against children and women. “All these realities,” he said, “threaten the sanctity of marriage, the stability of life in the home and consequently the life of society as a whole.”
Speaking about how the Church can respond to social difficulties, he stressed needing union between the bishops and the people, especially “in solidarity with the vast number of unemployed.”
He reminded bishops of their responsibility to provide spiritual assistance and sound moral guidance, adding “that the absence of Christ is the greatest poverty of all.”
The Holy Father noted that promoting vocations and encouraging faithful to receive the sacraments is a significant part of the Church’s work.
Focusing on marriage, he said, “The holiness and indissolubility of Christian matrimony, often disintegrating under tremendous pressure from the secular world, must be deepened by clear doctrine and supported by the witness of committed married couples. Christian matrimony is a lifelong covenant of love between one man and one woman; it entails real sacrifices in order to turn away from illusory notions of sexual freedom and in order to foster conjugal fidelity.”
Turning to “the breakdown of Christian morals, including a growing temptation to collude with dishonesty,” he said, quoting the bishops themselves, that “corruption is theft from the poor,” it “hurts the most vulnerable” and “harms the whole community.” He said it “destroys our trust.”
Closing, Francis said, “Now is the time to rekindle the precious gift of faith so as to renew your dedicated service to God’s people! May the saints of Africa sustain you by their intercession. May Our Lady of Africa be always at your side, and may she guide you as you share in the teaching, sanctifying and governing mission of Christ.” (D.C.L.)
On Zenit’s Web page: