Pope Francis received in audience today the Prelates of the Episcopal Conference of Mali on the occasion of their Visit “ad Limina Apostolorum.”
Here is a translation of the text of the Pope’s address to the Bishops in the course of the meeting.
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Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
It is a great joy for me to receive and greet each one of you affectionately, on the occasion of your visit ad limina Apostolorum. This pilgrimage to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul enables you to tighten your bonds of communion with the Apostolic See, among yourselves and with the Bishops of the whole world. You have come also to renew your energies in view of an engagement ever more inspired by the model of these Apostles, at the service of the People of God entrusted to you. The address made in the name of all of you by Monsignor Jean-Baptiste Tiama, President of your Episcopal Conference, not only expresses your sentiments of faithful communion with the Successor of Peter, but it also represents an expressive tableau of the reality of the Church in Mali. I earnestly thank him, as well as each one of you. Through your persons, my thought goes to all the Malian people, as well as your diocesan communities. I express to them as well as to you yourselves my cordial encouragement.
I would like to direct your attention toward the person of Christ in the delicate situation that your country has faced in recent years, including security challenges. At times, this situation has undermined the coexistence between the various sectors of society as well as the harmony between men and women of different religions present in the land of Mali, which is rich with a glorious past, synonymous with admirable traditions among which are tolerance and cohesion. I thank your Episcopal Conference for knowing how to preserve the spirit of interreligious dialogue in this delicate context. The common commitment of Christians and Muslims to safeguard the Mali’s cultural treasures, especially the large libraries of Timbuktu, patrimony of humanity, is an eloquent example. When you return, I want you to express my nearness, not only to your faithful, but also to your fellow citizens of all social classes and religions, men and women of good will involved in the fight against intolerance and exclusion. Because, in these difficult moments each one is called to surpass himself, raising one’s look beyond the horizon of egoism and partisan interests to seek the common good (Cf. Evangelii gaudium, nn. 221ff).
In this situation, the Christian communities and their pastors are called to give an even greater witness to their faith based on the unconditional acceptance of the Gospel values. You are already following this path in translating the Bible into local languages because, in order to live the Word of God and to witness to it faithfully, we must first know it, diligently study it, and assimilate it. In this sense, the efforts made in your dioceses to develop new Catechesis manuals are to be welcomed. Thanks to a solid formation, the lives of the faithful will be even more rooted in faith and strengthened to withstand all threats.. In this regard, I wish to greet warmly the catechists for the important part they generously take in the evangelizing work.
Despite the serious problems facing it, the Church in Mali shows a beautiful dynamic in its work of evangelization, preserving a profound respect of conscience. Christ’s followers grow in number and fervor. But the Christian witness of the family still needs greater coherence. In your cultural context, also marked by divorce and polygamy, Catholics are called upon to concretely proclaim, through their witness, to the Gospel, life, and the family. I also encourage you to continue your pastoral work, paying particular attention to the situation of women: promoting the role of women in society and fighting against abuse and violence toward women is also a way of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who chose to be born of a woman, the Virgin Mary.
On thanking God for what he gives you to accomplish, you will not fail to pursue your efforts in view of the discernment of priestly vocations: the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. I do not cease to raise my prayer to God, with yours, that He may send laborers to his harvest. The patient and paternal support of priests is another area on which you must not relax your attention. You must be for them, particularly for the weakest, fathers, brothers and friends who are able to support and encourage them. The episcopal ministry, far from being a responsibility to assumer in a solitary spirit, constitutes a mission of communion and of service to communion that you live in a particular way with your priests.
This spirit of communion calls you also, as pastors, to reserve a choice place in your hearts and in your pastoral action for men and women Religious: they are also in need of feeling your paternal solicitude, which will enable each Institute or Congregation to express to the utmost its charism at the service of the whole community.
If in any particular church the synergy inspired by charity is needed to ensure its credibility, then your context of the charity and unity lived in the Church are among the most important signs of fruitful dialogue with other religions, an expression of authentic Christian witness (cf. Nostra aetate, 5). On this subject, Tertullian has left us the gripping witness of pagans of his time about Christians, which should always inspire us: ”See how they love one another, they truly love each other” (Apologetique, 39, 7). It is to be hoped that even nowadays these witnesses of members of other religions toward our Christian communities multiply! Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, I entrust this aspiration to your pastoral solicitude.
Likewise, the Gospel lived in its authentic dimension of charity should inspire social ministry. The Church is present in Mali in the areas of education for peace and your Christian communities actively contribute to promoting genuine national reconciliation. In congratulating you for your pastoral sensitivity in the field of promoting the human person without consideration limited to ethnic or religious affiliation, I would like to pay tribute to the many Christians who spread the culture of solidarity and hospitality, especially in facing the violence of the last years.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, strengthened by the Lord’s promise to be with his family until the end of time, (cf. Matthew 28:20) I am convinced that despite the difficulties on their path, the Church in Mali will continue to be a testament to hope and peace. Therefore, I exhort you to persevere on the way of the Gospel, in maintaining the priority accorded to youth in your pastoral action: young people should be genuine builders of peace and of reconciliation. May they always feel increasingly supported by their pastors, to remain united to Christ, recognizing his living presence in our world, especially through the weakest and poorest.
To conclude this meeting, I would like to direct my thought once again to the Christian communities of which you have pastoral charge: my prayers and encouragement go to them; please make yourselves the interpreters of my affectionate closeness to the priests, the men and women Religious, the seminarians, the novices, the catechists and the lay faithful, in particular to suffering and tried persons. On asking you to continue to pray for me and to have prayer made for my ministry, I invoke upon you the comfort of the Risen Lord conqueror of evil and death and I accord to you my heartfelt Apostolic Blessing, which I gladly extend to all your diocesans.[Translation by ZENIT]