Below is a translation of Pope Francis’ address to the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Benin, on the occasion of their ad limina apostolorum visit this morning in the Vatican:
Dear Brother Bishops,
I am very happy to receive you on the occasion of your pilgrimage to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul. I greet cordially Monsignor Antoine Ganye, President of your Conference, and I thank him for his words. I hope that your visit to Rome will be for you a moment of profound and peaceful spiritual healing, which gives you the occasion to give thanks for the good work accomplished in your dioceses for the proclamation of the Gospel, and which gives you the necessary help to persevere in your mission of pastors. Our meeting manifests the fraternal communion that exists among all the Bishops, and with him who presides at this communion: the Successor of Peter. I hope that once you return to your dioceses you will keep the spirit of this profound and supernatural reality: you are never alone. We are all united at the service of one Lord.
I wish first to thank the Lord for the progress he accords the Church in Benin, by the exercise of your ministry. You give witness of great enthusiasm in the visible expression of the faith of the people of God. Parish life is animated, the faithful take part in the celebrations in great numbers; conversions to Christ are numerous as are priestly and religious vocations. You are right, however, in stressing in your reports that this faith, spreading increasingly, is sometimes superficial and lacks solidity. Now it is important that the desire for a profound knowledge of the Christian mystery is not the privilege of an elite, but that it animates all the faithful, because they are all called to sanctity. This is of capital importance for the Church in Benin to resist and overcome the contrary winds that arise everywhere in the world and which will not fail to blow in your country. And I know that you are vigilant in face of the multiple ideological and media aggressions. The spirit of secularism is at work also in your country, even if it is not yet very visible. Only a profound faith rooted in the heart of the faithful, and lived concretely, will enable you to address it.
And I am thinking in particular of the major challenges that concern the family and which the forthcoming Synod at Rome will attempt to answer. I thank you for your prayers for this intention, and for your prayers for me. I thank you also for the mobilization of which you have given proof, with your dioceses, to take part in this very important reflection. And I cannot but encourage you to pursue with determination the efforts undertaken to support families, both in their faith as well as in their daily life. I know that the Marriage Pastoral remains difficult, taking into account the concrete social and cultural situation of your people. On the other hand, you must not be discouraged, but persevere ceaselessly, because the family, as the Catholic Church defends it, is a reality willed by God; it is a gift of God that gives to persons as well as to societies joy, peace, stability and happiness. The issue is important, because the family being the basic cell of society as well as of the Church, it is at its heart that authentic human and evangelical values are transmitted: “the educational mission of the Christian family is a true ministry, thanks to which the Gospel is transmitted and diffused, to such a point that the family life becomes a path of faith and […] school of life in the following of Christ” (Familiaris consortio, n. 39).
Another important challenge that you highlight with vigilance is that of youth and of education. You have opened numerous Catholic schools in your dioceses, and young people are well trained in the movements. This effort must be pursued without pause because the integral formation, both human as well as spiritual, of the young generations is important for the future of the society to which they will be able to make their precious contribution, notably in the matter of solidarity, of justice and of respect for the other. In fact, it is necessary to foster in your countries – of course without renouncing in anything of the Truth revealed by the Lord – the encounter between cultures as well as the dialogue between religions, notably with Islam. It is known that Benin is an example of harmony among the religions present in the territory. It is appropriate to be vigilant, taking into account the present world climate, in order to preserve this fragile heritage. I was particularly happy about the international colloquium held recently under the presidency of Cardinal Tauran, on inter-religious dialogue, which was appreciated by all.
By fostering concord and justice, your local Churches have, therefore, dear Brothers, a primary role to play for the progress of your country. However, they fulfil this role also by the works of health care and human promotion. How much work has been accomplished in your dioceses in the name of the Gospel! While the world economic crisis affects a great number of countries, it is appropriate to go courageously against the current, fighting against the widespread “disposable” culture (Cf. Evangelii gaudium, n 53), and diffusing the evangelical values of hospitality and encounter. “The service of charity is a constitutive dimension of the mission of the Church, and it constitutes an expression of her very essence” (Evangelii gaudium, n. 179). However, it is important to guard well the spirit that the works carried out by the Church have, a specificity that must be clearly identified: it is never about simple social assistance, but the manifestation of the tenderness and mercy of Jesus himself who bends down over the wounds and the weaknesses of his brothers. It is thus that the joy of the Gospel is proclaimed in the most effective way to men. May all those who take part in it be warmly thanked, whether it is priests, lay faithful or men and women Religious. And I invite the latter to live intensely this Year of Consecrated Life, so that they root their life and their actions even more profoundly in Christ Jesus: “It is in this way that they will be able to love in truth and in mercy each person that they meet on the way, because they will have learnt from Him what love is and how to love: they will be able to love because they will have his very heart” (Cf. Message for the Year of Consecrated Life 2025).
I wish to greet also the generous engagement of priests at the service of the Good News. May the Lord bless your communities with the blossoming of numerous priestly vocations. Formation in the Seminary is determinant for the future, and I invite the pastors to watch over its balance, which must always be both human, spiritual and communal as well as intellectual. The Bishop must be a father for his priests, foster communion and fraternity at the heart of the priestly family, take care of those who are in difficulty, of the most fragile, in particular of the youths who must be more supported. Moreover, as vocations are not lacking, you are ready to share generously your resources with the Churches of other regions that lack them. It is appropriate, however, when you send priests to study or on foreign missions, that you do so with discernment, not forgetting the needs of your own Churches.
Dear Brother Bishops, the Church in Benin enjoys good relations with the civil Authorities. The voice of the Church is listened to and her action is appreciated. I invite you to continue to take your place in the public life of the country, particularly at this time. I know that you are involved in constant work to encourage relations between the different components of the society. I invite you to persevere in this path, while being careful not to enter directly into the political game or parties’ quarrels. The conduct of public affairs falls on the laity that, on the other hand, you have the important duty to form and encourage without ceasing.
May the Virgin Mary sustain you and illumine you in your ministry; may she lead you, as well as your priests, the consecrated persons, the catechists and all the laity of your dioceses to her Son Jesus. I address to all my heartfelt Apostolic Blessing.[Original text: French] [Translation by ZENIT]