Pope Francis this morning received in audience the bishops of the episcopal conference of Rwanda, for their visit “ad Limina Apostolorum.”
Here below is a translation of the Pope’s address to the prelates in the course of the meeting.
Dear Brother Bishops,
I wish to welcome you to Rome on the occasion of your visit ad limina Apostolorum. I hope with all my heart that, through the intercession of Saint Peter and Saint Paul and in the light of their witness, you will be able to renew in your hearts the faith and courage necessary for your exacting pastoral mission. I thank H.E. Monsignor Smaragde Mbonyintege, President of your Episcopal Conference, for the cordial message he addressed to me. Through you, I express my profound affection to the priests, to the men and women religious, to the lay faithful of your dioceses as well as to all the inhabitants of your country.
In a few days Rwanda is going to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the outbreak of the dreadful genocide that caused so much suffering and wounds, which are still far from being healed. I associate myself profoundly to the national mourning, and I assure you of my prayer for you, yourselves, for your communities often torn apart, for all the victims and their families, for all the Rwandan people without distinctions of religion, ethnic origins or political affiliations.
Twenty years after those tragic events, reconciliation and the healing of wounds remain, certainly, the priority of the Church in Rwanda. And I encourage you to persevere in this endeavor, which you have already assumed with numerous initiatives. The forgiveness of offenses and genuine reconciliation, which might seem impossible from a human view after so much suffering, are nevertheless a gift that it is possible to receive from Christ, with faith and prayer, even if the path is long and calls for patience, mutual respect and dialogue. Hence, the Church has her place in the reconstruction of a reconciled Rwandan society, with all the dynamism of your faith and of Christian hope. Therefore, go forward resolutely, rendering ceaseless witness to the truth.
However, we must remember that it is only by being united in love that we can have the Gospel touch and convert hearts profoundly: “that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me” (John 17:23), Jesus says to us. Therefore, it is important that, going beyond prejudgments and ethnic divisions, the Church speak with one voice, manifest her unity and reaffirm her communion with the universal Church and with the Successor of Peter.
In this perspective of national reconciliation, it is also necessary to reinforce relations of trust between the Church and the State. May the celebration, this coming June 6, of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Rwanda and the Holy See, be the occasion to recall the beneficial fruits that all can expect from such relations, for the good of the Rwandan people. A constructive and genuine dialogue with the Authorities will be able to foster the common endeavor of reconciliation and reconstruction of the society around the values of human dignity, justice and peace. Be a Church “of output”, which is able to take the initiative (cf. Evangelii gaudium, n. 24) and establish trust.
Do not be afraid to highlight the irreplaceable contribution of the Church to the common good. I know that the work accomplished, in particular in the areas of education and health, is considerable. And in this connection, I greet the perseverant work of the Religious Institutes that, with so many persons of good will, are dedicated to all those that the war wounded, in their soul or their body, in particular the widows and orphans, but also the elderly, the sick and children. The religious life, by the offering of its adoration and prayer, makes credible the witness that the Church renders to the Risen Christ and to his love for all men, in particular the poorest.
The education of youth is the key of the future in a country where the population renews itself rapidly. “That youth is a gift and a treasure of God, of which the whole Church is grateful to the Master of life. That youth must be loved, esteemed and respected” (Africae munus, n. 60). It is also a duty of the Church to form children and young people in the evangelical values, which they will find, in particular, in familiarity with the Word of God, which will then be for them like a compass, indicating to them the route to follow. May they learn to be active and generous members of the society, because the future rests on them. To bring this about it is necessary to reinforce the pastoral at the University and in schools, Catholic and public, always seeking to link the educational mission and the explicit proclamation of the Gospel, which must not be separated (cf. Evangelii gaudium, nn. 132, 134).
The laity has a primordial role in the task of evangelization and reconstruction to be accomplished. And I would like here first of all to warmly thank all the catechists for their generous and perseverant engagement. Lay faithful are intensely involved in the life of the grassroots Ecclesial Communities, in Movements, schools, charitable works, as well as in different areas of social life. Therefore, particular attention must be given to their formation and support, both in their spiritual life as well as in their human and intellectual formation which must be of great quality. In fact, their involvement in society will be credible in the measure that they are competent and honest.
An altogether particular vigilance must be given to families, which are the vital cells of society and of the Church, now that today they find themselves greatly menaced by the process of secularization and that, in your country, so many families have been torn apart and reconstructed. They are in need of your solicitude, of your closeness and of your encouragement. It is first of all in the very heart of families that young people can experience the genuinely Christian values of integrity, fidelity, honesty, and the gift of self, which makes it possible to know true happiness according to the heart of God.
Finally, I express my gratitude to the priests who give themselves generously in the ministry. Their task is that much heavier as they are not yet sufficient in number. I encourage you to perfect ceaselessly the human, intellectual and spiritual formation of seminarians. May they always have as formators joyful models of priestly accomplishment. Be very attentive about being close to your priests, to listen to them and to be available for them. Their task is difficult and they have absolute need of your personal support and encouragement. Do not neglect their permanent formation and I encourage you to multiply the occasions of encounter and fraternal contacts.
Dear Brothers, I renew to you the assurance of my attachment to you yourselves, to your diocesan communities, to the whole of Rwanda, and I entrust you all to the maternal protection of the Virgin Mary. Jesus’ Mother wished to manifest herself in your country to children, reminding them of the efficacy of fasting and prayer, in particular the prayer of the Rosary. I have an ardent wish that you will be able to make the Shrine of Kibeho shine yet more Mary’s love for all her children, in particular for the poorest and most wounded, and that it be for the Church of Rwanda and beyond a call to return with confidence to “Our Lady of Sorrows,” that she may accompany each one in their path and obtain the gift of reconciliation and peace. I give you wholeheartedly the Apostolic Blessing.[Original text: French] [Translation by ZENIT]