VATICAN CITY, APRIL 1, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As I announced last Sunday in the Angelus, I will reflect today on my recent apostolic journey to Africa, the first of my pontificate to that continent. It was limited to Cameroon and Angola, but ideally, with my visit I wished to embrace all the African people and bless them in the name of the Lord. I experienced the traditional warm African welcome, given to me everywhere, and I am pleased to take advantage of this occasion to express again my profound gratitude to the episcopates of both countries, to the heads of state, to all the authorities and to all those who in different ways contributed to the success of this pastoral visit of mine.
My stay in African land began on March 17 in Yaoundé, capital of Cameroon, where I found myself immediately in the heart of Africa, and not just geographically. This country, in fact, has many characteristics of that great continent, the first of them being its profound religious soul, which unites the very numerous ethnic groups that inhabit it. In Cameroon, more than a quarter of the population is Catholic, and they coexist peacefully with the other religious communities. This is why in 1995 my beloved Predecessor John Paul II chose precisely the capital of this nation to promulgate the apostolic exhortation “Ecclesia in Africa,” after the first synodal assembly dedicated precisely to the African continent. This time, the Pope returned to hand over the “instrumentum laboris” of the second Synodal Assembly for Africa, planned in Rome for next October, and whose theme will be: “The Church in Africa at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace: ‘You Are the Salt of the Earth …. You Are the Light of the World’ (Matthew 5:13-14).”
In the meetings I had — two days apart — with the episcopates of Cameroon, and Angola and São Tomé, I wished — all the more so in this Pauline Year — to speak about the urgency of evangelization, which is primarily the province of the bishops, underlining the collegial dimension, based on sacramental communion. I exhorted them to be always an example for their priests and for all the faithful, and to follow closely the formation of seminarians that, thanks be to God, are numerous, and of catechists, who are increasingly necessary for the life of the Church. I encouraged the bishops to promote the pastoral care of marriage and the family, of the liturgy and of culture, also to enable the laity to resist the attack of sects and esoteric groups. I wanted to confirm them with affection in the service of charity and of the defense of the rights of the poor.
I recall the solemn celebration of Vespers that took place in Yaoundé, in the Church of Mary Queen of the Apostles, Patroness of Cameroon, a large and modern church, which rises in the place where the first evangelizers of Cameroon worked, the Spiritan Missionaries. On the eve of the Solemnity of St. Joseph, to whose careful custody God entrusted his most precious treasures, Mary and Jesus, we gave glory to the one Father who is in heaven, together with the representatives of other Churches and ecclesial communities. Contemplating the spiritual figure of St. Joseph, who consecrated his life to Christ and the Virgin Mary, I invited priests, consecrated persons and members of ecclesial movements to be always faithful to their vocation, living in the presence of God and in joyful obedience of his Word.
In the apostolic nunciature of Yaoundé I had the opportunity to meet also with the representatives of the Muslim communities of Cameroon, verifying the importance of interreligious dialogue and collaboration between Christians and Muslims to help the world to open to God. It was a truly cordial meeting.
Undoubtedly one of the culminating moments of the journey was the handing over of the “instrumentum laboris” of the Second Synodal Assembly for Africa, which took place on March 19 — the feastday of St. Joseph and my name day — in the stadium of Yaoundé, at the end of the solemn Eucharistic celebration in honor of St. Joseph. This occurred in the cordiality of the people of God, “with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival” — as the Psalm says (42:5), of which we have had a concrete experience. The Synodal Assembly will take place in Rome, but in a certain sense it has already started in the heart of the African continent, in the heart of the Christian family that lives, suffers and hopes there. That is why the publication of the “working instrument” seemed to me to be a happy coincidence with the feast of St. Joseph, model of faith and hope as Abraham, the first patriarch. Faith in the “God who is close,” who has shown us in Jesus his face of love, is the guarantee of a sure hope, for Africa and for the whole world, guarantee of a future of reconciliation, justice and peace.
After the solemn liturgical assembly and the festive presentation of the working document, I was able to spend time in the apostolic nunciature with members of the Special Council for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, and to live with them a moment of intense communion: We reflected together on the history of Africa from a theological and pastoral perspective. It was almost as the first meeting of the synod itself, in a fraternal debate between the various episcopates and the Pope in view of the synod of reconciliation and peace in Africa. From the beginning Christianity, in fact, and this was visible, has grown deep roots in African soil, as attested by the numerous martyrs and saints, pastors, doctors and catechists that flourished first in the north and later, in subsequent periods, in the rest of the continent: Let us think of Cyprian, Augustine and his mother Monica, Athanasius and then of the martyrs of Uganda, of Giuseppina Bakhita and so many others. In the present age, which witnesses an Africa determined to consolidate its political independence and the building of its national identities in a globalized context, the Church accompanies Africans offering the great message of Vatican Council II, implemented through the first, and now the second special synodal assembly. In the midst of conflicts, unfortunately numerous and tragic, that still afflict the different regions of this continent, the Church knows she is a sign and instrument of unity and reconciliation so that the whole of Africa can build, united, a future of justice, solidarity and peace, carrying out the teachings of the Gospel.
A strong sign of the humanizing action of Christ’s message is without a doubt the Cardinal Leger Center of Yaoundé, dedicated to the rehabilitation of disabled people. Its founder was Canadian cardinal Paul-Émil Léger, who wished to retire there after the council in 1968, to work among the poor. In the center, subsequently ceded to the state, I met with numerous brothers and sisters who live in a situation of suffering, sharing with them — but also receiving from them — the hope that comes from faith, also in situations of suffering.
Second stage — and second part of my journey — was Angola, a country that in certain aspects is emblematic: Having come out of a long internal war, it is now committed to the work of reconciliation and national reconstruction. But how could this reconciliation and reconstruction be genuine if they took place at the cost of the poorest, who have the right as do all to participate in the resources of their land? Herein is the reason why, with this visit of mine, whose first objective as obviously to confirm the faith of the Church, I also wished to encourage the social process in progress. In Angola one touches with one’s hand what my venerated predecessors have repeated: Everything is lost with war, everything can be reborn with peace. But to reconstruct a nation, many moral energies are necessary. And because of this, once again, the role of the Church is important, called to develop an educational function, working in depth to renew and form consciences.
St. Paul is the patron of the city of Luanda, capital of Angola: That is why I wanted to celebrate the Eucharist with the priests, seminarians, religious, catechists and the other pastoral agents on Saturday, March 21, in the church dedicated to the Apostle. Once again St. Paul’s personal experience spoke to us of his meeting with the Risen Christ, capable of transforming persons and society. The historical contexts change — and it is necessary to take this into account — but Christ remains as the true force of the radical renewal of man and of the human community. That is why to return to God, to be converted to Christ, means to go forward, toward the fullness of life.
To express the Church’s closeness to Angola’s efforts of reconstruction and of so many African regions, I wished to dedicate two special meetings in Luanda to young people and to women respectively. With young people, in the stadium, it was a celebration of joy and hope, saddened unfortunately by the death of two girls, trampled by the crowd at the entrance. Africa is a very young continent, but many of its sons, children and adolescents, have already suffered serious wounds, that only Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, can heal by infusing in them, with his Spirit, the strength to love and to be committed to justice and peace. Then I paid homage to the women for the service that many of them offer to faith, human dignity, life and the family. I reaffirmed their full right to be involved in public life, without hurting, however, their role in the family, an essential mission to develop, always sharing responsibly with the other elements of the society and above all with husbands and fathers.
This is, therefore, the message I gave to the new generations and to the feminine world, extending it also to all in the great Eucharistic assembly of Sunday, March 22, concelebrated with the bishops of the countries of Southern Africa, with the participation of a million faithful. If the African people — I said to them — do as ancient Israel did, and base their hope on the Word of God, rich in their religious and cultural heritage, they will really be able to build a future of reconciliation and stable peace for all.
Dear brothers and sisters, how many considerations I have in my heart and how many memories come to mind thinking of this journey! I ask you to thank the Lord for the wonders he has done and continues to do in Africa thanks to the generous action of missionaries, men and women religious, volunteers, priests, catechists, and young communities full of enthusiasm and faith. I also ask you to pray for the peoples of Africa, very dear to me, so that they will be able to address with courage the great social, economic and spiritual challenges of the present moment. I entrust everything and everyone to the maternal intercession of Mary Most Holy, Queen of Africa and of the African saints and blessed.
[Translation by ZENIT]